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Ernest Nagel 


Sovereign Reason 


AND OTHER STUDIES IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE 


The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois 



Copyright 1954 by The Free Press, a corporation 


Printed in the United States of America 

# 

Designed by Sidney Solomon 



To Sidney Hook 



Contents 



PAGE 

Introduction 9 

1. Malicious Philosophies of Science 17 

2. Recent Philosophies of Science 36 

3. Philosophy and the American Temper 50 

4. Charles Peirce’s Guesses at the Riddle 58 

5. Charles S. Peirce, Pioneer of Modern Empiricism 89 

6. Dewey’s Theory of Natural Science loi 

7. Dewey’s Reconstruction of Logical Theory 1 18 

8. Reflections on Some Logical and Metaphysical Themes 

in Dewey’s Philosophy 141 

9. Alfred North Whitehead r 50 

10. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell r6i 

11. Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth 190 

12. The Basis of Human Knowledge 21 1 

13. Eddington’s Philosophy of Physical Science 216 

14. Probability and the Theory of Knowledge 225 

15. Sovereign Reason 266 

I <5. The Perspectives of Science and the Prospects of Men 296 

Bibliographical Note 309 

Index 3 * * 




Introduction 


The sixteen essays in this collection were written for different 
occasions, and have been previously published. They are re- 
printed here with only minor editorial changes. They do not con- 
stitute a systematic discussion of a single philosophic problem, nor 
do they exhibit a consecutive development of a single philosophic 
theme. 

This collection of papers nevertheless does deal with a set of 
related problems. All save one of the essays are critical studies of 
contemporary philosophers who have been occupied, in one way 
or another, with the content or method of modem science, and who 
have thereby sought to illumine the nature and operations of human 
reason. These essays thus constitute an evaluation of various pro- 
posals by influential writers for resolving many paramount issues 
in the philosophy of science. Whatever unity the contemporary 
philosophy of science may have in respect to the subject matters 
and the problems falling into its province, I can also claim for this 
book. The unity is clearly not a tightly knit one. It is indeed possible 
to subsume the problems treated by writers on the philosophy of 

[9] 



[ lo ] Introduction 

science under four diverse though related types. The studies in 
this collection touch upon all four types, since each thinker dis- 
cussed has concerned himself with one or more of them. The reader 
may find helpful the following brief description of the major divi- 
sions into which contemporary philosophic commentary on science 
can be conveniently classified. 

The relation of theory to gross experience— of ‘^abstract reason” 
to the ‘‘nature” encountered in ordinaiy perception and overt action 
—is a theme that is as old as western thought. Philosophers have dis- 
cussed it in technical language, and poets have sung variations on it. 

Do not all charms fly 
At the mere touch of cold philosophy^ 

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven. 

We know her woof, her texture; she is given 
In the dull catalogue of common things. 

Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, 

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, 

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine— 

Unweave a rainbow, as it erewHlle made 
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade. 

It is a theme covering problems which became acute with the de- 
velopment of mathematical physics tliree centuries ago; and the 
character of current theories in the natural sciences, possessing con- 
tents that are apparently quite “alien” to the manifest features of 
experience, has augmented its importance. It is a theme to which 
contemporary philosophers of science have devoted much atten- 
tion, so that a good fraction of recent philosophic literature is .by 
explicit design a critique of scientific “abstractions.” A well-nigh 
continuous spectrum of diverse proposals is available for making 
explicit the ways in which theoretical concepts and theoretical 
objects in the sciences are related to the materials of familiar experi- 
ence, The general problem these proposals seek to solve is perhaps 
the most persistent and central philosophic issue under current 
discussion. 

The nature and basis of reliable knowledge is the theme of a 
second group of problems. Genuine knowledge was once widely 
identified with absolutely certain knowledge, and this identification 
continues to be made by many contemporary thinkers. Some of 
them claim to achieve such knowledge by way of immediate sen- 



Introduction [ ii ] 

sation, others by way of private intellectual “insight,” still others 
by way of a special mode of reasoning. On the other hand, there 
are also many thinkers who do not equate knowledge with infalli- 
bility; and by these the conclusions of the sciences— usually, though 
not invariably, the conclusions of the physical sciences— are often 
taken to be the supreme examples of warranted belief. Which if 
any of these competing claims has merit, what the grounds are 
for the alleged reliability of scientific knowledge, how probable 
inferences are to be interpreted and “justified,” and what are the 
principles underlying the valid estimation of evidence, are focal 
questions in contemporary philosophy of science. 

A third group of problems is generated by the perennial quest 
for a total view of the universe. In the opinion of many men, the 
various special sciences are incapable of dealing with “ultimate” 
questions, so that answers to these must be sought elsewhere: 

Beyond the bright searchlights of science. 

Out of sigly: of the windows of sense. 

Old riddles still bid us defiance 

Old questions of Why and Whence. 

Some philosophers have sought to resolve such riddles by construct- 
ing speculative schemes of cosmic evolution which purport to “ex- 
plain” the emergence and destiny of every occurrence in nature on 
the basis of primordial principles of unilinear development. Other 
writers have tried to master such riddles by advancing some “higher 
synthesis” of the detailed findings of the special sciences, so that 
the restricted theories of the latter are the supposed consequences 
of an inclusive “philosophic” theory about the foundations of the 
universe. On the other hand, many philosophers have rejected as 
misplaced such efforts at obtaining a comprehensive view of things. 
Some of them, however, have adopted what to them appears as the 
sound method for achieving this objective, by devising systems of 
interrelated categorial distinctions that ostensibly formulate the 
“pervasive traits” of existence. Such systems are alleged to have 
the value of a connected and complete “map” of the universe, so 
that every character displayed in nature must necessarily illustrate 
one of the categories in the system. Accordingly, such categories 
are often claimed to formulate the ultimate principles of intelligi- 
bility— the basic intellectual tools for criticizing and evaluating the 



[ 12] Introduction 

conclusions of specialized scientific inquiries. It will be evident that 
most of the issues of traditional metaphysics find their place in this 
third group of questions discussed in current philosophies of science. 

Finally, there is a class of problems dealing with the relations 
of science and society. Some of these problems are concerned with 
the social determinants and the social consequences of the scientific 
enterprise; others are concerned with the bearings of scientific 
findings on systems of individual and social value. Many questions 
in this group are of a forthright empirical character, and those who 
seek to resolve them must abide— as they frequently do— by the 
canons of historical and sociological investigation. Other questions, 
however, are not so easily resolved even in principle, since their 
very formulation often depends on antecedent commitments on 
issues falling into the three previously mentioned groups of prob- 
lems. At one extreme are those writers who approach these ques- 
tions from the perspective of the dictum: “Science carries us into 
zones of speculation, where there is no habitable city for the life 
of man.” At the other extreme are commtntators on human affairs 
who see in the patterns of activity which physical science finds 
pervasive throughout nature, the true models for the organization 
of human society. In any event, in no area of the philosophy of 
science are the issues so complex and so heatedly debated as in this 
one. 

The major themes listed in this catalogue are recurrent in the 
history of thought, and are all important. They enter into all 
reflective thought or action which is controlled by some conception 
of the character of human reason and by some notions concerning 
the place of man in nature. They are themes, moreover, that are 
intimately related to the actual practice of science; and scientists 
have frequently found it imperative, for the sake of advancing 
their own work, to clarify some of the issues involved in them. 
The need for considering broad methodological and substantive 
questions is especially acute in periods of scientific development, 
such as ours is, in which revolutionary changes in theoretical out- 
look are taking place. Such developments tend to upset deeply 
rooted beliefs concerning the structure of the physical universe as 
well as those concerning human behavior; and those developments 
provoke, in consequence, a reexamination of the basis of cognitive 
certitude and of the accepted criteria of intelligibility. The themes 



Introduction [ 13 1 

cited are accordingly not of exclusive concern to professional phi- 
losophers. Philosophically minded scientists as well as professional 
philosophers have contributed to their analysis. 

There are, however, ways of conceiving and attacking problems 
associated with those themes that are sterile and unilluminating, just 
as there are approaches to theme which are fruitful and clarifying. 
Much contemporary philosophy of science does not merit these 
latter characterizations, for it does not always satisfy the mimmal 
conditions that philosophic analysis must meet if it is to be infor- 
mative and illuminating. No question in the philosophy of science 
is significant, if its formulation is so general that specific evidence 
drawn from identifiable subject matter is never relevant to the 
evaluation of any proposed answer to the question. No discussion 
is pertinent to a problem, if the discussion is conducted out of all 
relations with the context that fixes the sense of the problem. No 
mode of attack on a problem is fruitful which generates for every 
puzzle it pretends to solve a fresh difficulty that is a duplicate of 
the original one. And no proposed answer to a problem is clarifying, 
if it assumes an absolutely completed body of knowledge as a 
condition for effectively resolving the question. Conformity to 
these requirements is undoubtedly not a sufficient condition for 
valuable work in the philosophy of science, but failure to conform 
to them seriously qualifies the merits of any analysis in this domain 
of philosophy. 

A few examples of doubtfully valuable contributions to the 
philosophy of science, which illustrate each of the major themes 
cited above, will give point to these dicta. A number of techniques 
have been proposed for exhibiting the relation of the abstractions 
of science— such as “points” and “straight lines” in geometry, or 
“instants” and “atoms” in physics— to the material of crude experi- 
ence. Proposals like those of Russell and Whitehead, for example, 
that ignore the concrete ways in which scientific abstractions are 
employed in various contexts of inquiry, and that substitute for 
one set of theoretical notions another set of equally remote formal 
constructions, throw little if any light on scientific procedure. Such 
proposals may be important contributions to some branch of formal 
study, and are undoubtedly fascinating exhibitions of intellectual 
virtuosity. They do not provide helpful answers to the difficulties 
that initiated the analysis. 



[ 14 ] Introduction 

Secondly, it is significant to ask, for example, why under speci- 
fied conditions men make incorrect perceptual Judgments or draw 
unwarranted conclusions. Such questions are in principle resolvable, 
for they are concerned with the identification and the elimination 
of sources of possible error in determinate contexts. But there is 
no general “problem of error” in the pursuit of knowledge. It is 
not rewarding to pursue limited questions like the one Just cited, 
if inquiry into them is based on a radical scepticism concerning the 
very possibility of ever making correct Judgments. It is not fruit- 
ful to do this, or to raise in wholesale fashion a “problem” about 
the “existence of an external world”— as Reichenbach, Russell, and 
others have in effect done— if only because no identifiable context 
of inquiry can be specified in which such “problems” can be co- 
herently formulated. 

Thirdly, the quest for a comprehensive view of things can be 
the pursuit of an intelligible and worthy ideal. It is an ideal to 
which various special departments of study are progressively con- 
tributing. It is an ideal whose realizatiorv can perhaps never be 
more than approximate, though even partial realizations of it, es- 
pecially when embodied in great literature, may serve as general 
directives for human effort. But when the quest for a total view of 
nature is so conducted that it can terminate only in a set of “ulti- 
mate” categories which are compatible with every possible order 
of events, or which ascribe by vague analogy to everything in na- 
ture traits that are knovm to characterize only a limited sector of 
it, a misleading verbal game has been substituted for a search for 
genuine knowledge. In any event, the various schemes of basic 
categories that have been constructed— whether by Peirce or by 
Whitehead or by Dewey— which supposedly codify the “generic” 
or “irreducible” traits of existence, have still to prove their worth 
as alleged instruments either of explanation, criticism, or fruitful 
classification. 

Finally, the task of making explicit the import of scientific dis- 
coveries for human values is a perennially important one. But that 
task is radically misconceived when standards of human excellence 
are alleged to be derived, or derivable, from the characters which 
physical science ascribes to its postulated sub-microscopic objects. 
For the context in which the predications of sub-atomic physics 
ate significant, is not the context iri which Judgments concerning 



Introduction [ 15 ] 

human values are relevant. No amount of dialectical prestidigitation 
can convert the presumably necessary conditions for the existence 
of everything whatsoever, into the suiHcient conditions for the 
manifestation of special human virtues. 

In their commentaries on the nature and import of science, 
practicing scientists as well as professional philosophers have thus 
frequently obscured rather than illumined fundamental issues. It is 
not altogether anomalous that scientists are not uniformly the best 
interpreters of their procedures and their theoretical discoveries. 
What is loosely called “scientific method” is usually a habit of work- 
manship acquired by engaging in successful inquiry, rather than 
a codified set of principles to which scientists exphcitly subscribe. 
In fact, most workers in specialized branches of research rarely give 
serious attention to methodological problems that do not contrib- 
ute directly to the solution of concrete research tasks. The philos- 
ophy of science which practicing scientists profess on ceremonial 
and other occasions when they discuss the broader significance of 
their enterprise and thtir achievements, is often but an echo of 
philosophical ideas uncritically acquired in their youth. It is none- 
theless the case that some of the most penetrating and clarifying 
analyses of the operations of scientific intelhgence and of the broad 
significance of theoretical constructions, have been the contribu- 
tions of philosophically minded workers in special branches of 
science. The writings of such men as Helmholtz, Mach, Hertz, 
Duhem and Poincar^ to mention only a few of the illustrious dead, 
provide ample evidence for this judgment. 

Professional philosophers writing on science are not exempt from 
the danger of becoming unwitting captives of an uncritically ac- 
cepted philosophy. Philosophers are usually familiar, however, with 
a variety of intellectual traditions, and they presumably have sonae 
training in the criticism and the logical analysis of broad issues. This 
danger is in consequence perhaps smaller in their case than it is in 
the case of most specialists in the sciences. On the other hand, phi- 
losophers suifer from the serious disadvantage that they frequently 
possess no first-hand familiarity with the actual operations of scien- 
tific inquiry or with the actual functions of scientific abstractions. 
They therefore run the grave risk of propounding issues and pro- 
posing solutions for them which have no conceivable bearing on any 
context or phase of science. Distance from an object may make 



[ i6 ] Introduction 

more of it visible. But when the distance is suiEciently great, the 
object may disappear in a haze, and an alleged description of it 
may then be the description of a fog. Moreover, without the re- 
straining control of a clear subject matter, there is often an irre- 
sistable temptation to “generalize” a problem whose sense is fixed 
by a definite context, to a point where the terms of the generalized 
formulation no longer posses differential meanings. The “solutions” 
which are then advanced for such “generalized” questions will often 
be functions of the particular technique of analysis that happens to 
be in favor; but suctx “solutions” will also be irrelevant to anything 
that is of serious concern in the conduct of inquiry. The dangers 
and pitfalls here briefly listed are of course not insurmountable; 
and the writings of Peirce, Dewey, Reichenbach, Whitehead and 
Russell show, despite their various limitations, how much the philos- 
ophy of science owes to the analyses of professional philosophers. 

The philosophy of science is a difficult branch of intellectual 
analysis. It requires for its effective cultivation a rare combination 
of solidly founded substantive knowledge,'" analytical and construc- 
tive skill, and— not least— a sharp sense for relevance. Even those 
who possess these traits in abundance do not always exhibit them to 
best advantage, as the essays in this collection try to show. There 
are, indeed, no uniform standards of competent workmanship which 
control analyses in the philosophy of science, and which are also 
binding upon those who attempt to evaluate the analyses of others. 
But the best work in this domain of philosophy, so it seems to me, 
has been done by men who have sought to understand human reason 
by examining its operations in controlled inquiry, and who have 
interpreted the meaning of theoretical constructions in terms of 
their manifest functions in identifiable contexts I would like to 
believe that the perspective of such a contextualistic analysis also 
controls the critiques of contemporary philosophers of science con- 
tained in this collection of essays. 



1 

Malicious Philosophies 
of Science 




Xhere is no substantial evidence for the widely held view that 
changes in the content and standards of theoretical inquiry are 
uniquely determined by changes in the economic and political 
structure of society. To be sure, scientific inquiries are often ini- 
tiated and subsidized by those concerned with problems of com- 
merce and technology, and the manner in which scientific discov- 
eries are assimiUated by a society depends on its economic and 
political organization. But once a department of inquiry establishes 
its traditions of workmanship, so the history of science seems to 
indicate, the course of subsequent developments in it is determined 
by the materials explored, by the talents and skills available, and 
by the logic of theoretical investigation. 

In almost every age, however, the attitudes which men assume 
toward personal and social issues have been often justified by them 
in terms of their understanding of the methods and latest findings 
of science. Professional scientists have frequently used their special- 

I>7,1 



[ i8 ] Sovereign Reason 

ized knowledge to buttress or criticize the institutions of their day; 
but pubhcists, religious leaders, and philosophers have usually played 
a more prominent role in this task of evaluating the general social 
import of scientific methods and scientific theories. Such evaluations 
do not, in most cases, flow from the specific character of scientific 
methods or their technical achievements; they issue from the social 
and religious commitments of those who make them, and are symp- 
tomatic of the stresses and strains in the social scene. 

In the midst of actual and impending disaster, men are inclined to 
listen to any voice speaking with sufficient authority; and during 
periods of social crisis, when rational methods of inquiry supply no 
immediate solutions for pressing problems, spokesmen for institu- 
tional and philosophic theologies find a ready audience for a sys- 
tematic disparagement of the achievements of empirical science. 
Ideas which the advance of knowledge had partially driven under- 
ground during periods of fair social weather, are then insolently 
proclaimed as panaceas for public and private ills. The assured 
methods of scientific control and understanding, because they effect 
no wholesale resolution of problems and because they yield no con- 
clusions beyond the possibility of error and correction, are then 
declared to be unsuitable guides for rational living. 

The mounting economic and political tensions of our own age 
have not failed to produce a literature of this type. From various 
quarters— from men of science, historians of ideas, as well as out- 
spoken representatives of theological systems— there has come a 
flood of criticism of modern science and of the secular naturalism 
which has accompanied its growth. The criticism has been neither 
uniform nor consistent. But the common objective of much of it 
has been the limitation of the authority of science, and the institution 
of methods other than those of controlled experimentation for dis- 
covering the natures and values of things. Many recent evaluations 
of science have thus had an obviously malicious intent; and the pres- 
ent essay will seek to determine briefly to what extent, in the case 
of several influential types of philosophies of science, good sense 
has been sacrificed to such malice. 


I* 

Undoubtedly the most solidly intrenched intellectual basis for the 
current disparagement of science is a well-known but nonetheless 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 19 ] 

questionable theory of knowledge upon which experimental method 
is made to rest. This type of critique starts with the familiar fact 
that in many theories of the natural sciences, especially physics, the 
various sensory qualities (such as colors and sounds) receive no 
explicit mention, and that it is only the quantifiable traits of things 
(such as mass and length) which are noticed. The immediate con- 
clusion which is then drawn is that sensory qualities are not prop- 
erties of objects in their own right, but are dependent on the 
activity of an immaterial mind. The remainder of the argument may 
then proceed along either of two lines of interpretation. According 
to one of them, more common in earlier centuries than in our own, 
the traits studied by the natural sciences are the only genuinely real 
things, while the directly experienced qualities are only a passmg 
appearance. The sights and sounds and smells of the human scene 
are thus taken to have only a “subjective” existence and to be the 
otiose by-products of the true executive order of nature. According 
to the second interpretation, currently highly fashionable, the quali- 
ties apprehended in rflaily experience are the concrete and exclusive 
reality. It is these qualities which are held to constitute the intrinsic 
natures of things; and since these qualities are allegedly psychic 
products, it is they which are regarded as the intelligible substance 
of the world. In putting to one side the qualitative character of 
existence the natural sciences are consequently preoccupied with 
shadowy abstractions, which have at best only a mean practical 
value; and the laws which are the outcome of scientific inquiry, far 
from expressing the true nature of things, fail to grasp and convey 
the dynamic reality of existence. 

On either interpretation, therefore, the world is split into two 
discontinuous realms. One of them, the proper domain of natural 
science, is a “mysterious universe” forever foreign and essentially 
unintelligible to the common experience of mankind; the other, the 
locus of enjoyments and values, is the theater of the mind’s activities 
and creations, and is the only reality in which mind can feel confi- 
dently at home. On either alternative, the human scene is endowed 
with character so distinctive that the procedures of the empirical 
sciences can provide no guide to it. For the controlled methods of 
experimentation are held to be relevant only to the realm of abstract 
quantity, so that the entire field of valuation, of deliberation and 
moral choice, is exempted from tihe norms of experimental inquiry. 



[ 20 ] Sovereign Reason 

Qualitative reality, which by hypothesis has an inherent connection 
with mind and consciousness, must therefore be explored by tech- 
niques different from those employed in the positive sciences; and 
in this realm, claims to truth must be subjected to canons of a radi- 
cally different kind. Imagination, intuition, introspection, and modes 
of emotional experience, are some of the ways which have been rec- 
ommended for grasping genuine reality and for understanding human 
affairs.^ 

Nevertheless, the actual character of scientific method offers 
warrant neither for such attempts to limit its authority, nor for the 
radical dualism of the qualitative and the quantitative, the mental 
and the physical, upon which those attempts thrive. A brief mention 
of some obvious features of experimental procedure will be sufiicient 
to show how inadequate are the analyses on whose basis the authority 
of scientific method is impugned. 

In the first place, however “abstract’’ scientific theories may be, 
those theories can be neither understood nor used except in con- 
texts of familiar qualitative discriminations, afhese contexts are 
tacitly taken for granted in the explicit formulation of theories, and 
are neither ignored nor contemned by the practicing scientists. Con- 
sider, for example, some of the operations involved in even so ele- 
mentary a process as the measurement of spatial magnitude: standards 
of magnitude must be constructed, requiring the use of familiar 


I. Two citations from recent writers will help convey the flavor of the 
alternauve methods which have been proposed. 

“Imagination is more adequate to reality than reason, for reality is not 
rational; therefore poetry and religion are better adapted to the real than 
the sciences. The real is not abstract and general. It is always concrete and 
individual; that is the reason why imagination alone can grasp it, whereas 
the intellect cannot fully conceive it. A theory of imagination ... is urgently 
needed as a foundation for ethics, esthetics, philosophy of history and of 
religion, and even for metaphysics.” (Richard Kroner, m a paper read before 
the Third Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, as quoted by 
The Nett} York Times, August 29, 1942.) 

. It IS an axiom of sound method that any experience is, in some manner 
and to some degree, intrinsically cognitive. An experience of love ... is at 
the same time an insight mto the loveable nature of what is loved; an experi- 
ence of moral urgency ... is an insight into the rightness of the action to be 
performed; an experience of reverence ... is an msight into the divinity of 
what is reverenced. Every such experience is a growth in wisdom and the 
wisdom is not testable by scientific techniques. . . (Philip Wheelwright, 
“Religion and Social Grammar,” The Kenyon Review, vol. 4 (1942), pp. 
203-204.) 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 21 ] 

bodies of daily experience; the relative CMistancy of the standards 
must be established, thus necessitating the noting of qualitative 
changes such as temperature; and the mutual relations of bodies 
must be discriminated, thus involving the identification and distinc- 
tion of bodies on the basis of such qualities as color and the texture 
of surfaces. In general, no metaphysical opposition between the 
qualitative and the quantitative is forced upon us in this process, 
since the institution of quantitative standards is simply the ordering 
and the discrimination of qualitative continua. The view that the 
subject-matter and the data of the physicist are opaque pointer- 
readings is clearly a falsification of the scientist’s procedure— a fal- 
sification which becomes more evident the more thorough is our 
examination of the full spectrum of scientific operations. 

In the second place, there can be no doubt that the colors, sounds, 
and other characteristics we perceive in our every-day affairs owe 
their existence not only to the objects they are commonly believed 
to qualify, but also to complicated mechanisms (including physio- 
logical ones) of which common-sense is frequently unaware. But 
it does not follow that these qualities are therefore constituted out 
of some “mental stuff,” or that a “mind” (in the sense of a disem- 
bodied, experimentally unidentifiable agent) is required for bring- 
ing them into existence. Whatever the conditions may be for the 
occurrence of colors, for example, experience shows extended sur- 
faces to be colored; and if it is held that colors are “mental,” traits 
(such as that of being extended) must be attributed to the mind 
which are the presumptive distinguishing marks of physical objects. 
In that case, however, what becomes of the notion of mind as a 
disembodied entity^ But dialectic aside, there is no shred of evidence 
that in addition to complicated physico-organic processes any other 
“agents” are required to produce the qualitative manifolds of expe- 
rience. The postulation of an additional agent (held to be something 
distinctively “mental”) is on par with the caprice of endowing the 
planets with souls in order to account for their motions. The actual 
procedures of the natural sciences thus offer no ground for the 
alleged dualism between the mental and the physical; and accord- 
ingly, even the semblance of a reason disappears for limiting the 
scope of experimental techniques. 

And in the third place, the “abstractness” with which natural 
science is charged as a fatal weakness, is in fact a trait of all cogni- 



[ 22 ] Sovereign Reason 

tion. All cognition involves the making of distinctions and the rec- 
ognition of some things as relevant and others as not; in this sense, 
therefore, all cognition abstracts from its subject-matter and pre- 
scinds those features from it which bear on the problems at issue. 
To know the course of the planets is not to engage in periodic jour- 
neys around the sun; to know the factors and conditions of a human 
transaction is not the same as to participate in its joys and sorrows. 
More generally, it is not the function of knowledge to reproduce its 
own subject-matter; and to refuse to make abstractions of any sort 
is to abandon knowledge in favor of uninformed feeling and blind 
experience. Accordingly, just what is the quarrel of those critics 
who find fault with the abstractness of science? Do they seriously 
claim that the theories of science are not relevant to their subject- 
matters? Do they maintain that there are ways essentially dufferent 
from and superior to those employed in the natural science for 
ascertaining the conditions for the occurrence of things and events^ 
Or do they disdain science simply because it does not supply what 
no knowledge worthy of the name can ojffer— a* unanalyzed redupli- 
cation of its own subject-matter? In either event, their discontent 
flows from a willful romanticism and a disregard of the historical 
achievements of the natural sciences; it provides no valid ground 
for excluding the operations of experimental inquiry from the do- 
main of human affairs. 


2 . 

A second widespread critique of scientific methods is at bottom 
a variant of the one already considered. It does not explicitly dis- 
own the authority of science in human affairs; but it does recom- 
mend the adoption of such vague and irresponsible canons of 
experimental control that it in effect argues for the exclusion of 
the logical methods employed in the positive sciences from the 
study of social problems. This view rests its case on two major 
claims; that in the past the natural sciences have mistakenly tried 
to ‘‘reduce^’ all features of the world to “mechanicar’ or ^^material- 
istic” properties; and that recent advances in our knowledge have 
demonstrated the breakdown of the “mechanical” categories of 
classical science. The present view, like the previous one, maintains 
that the human scene is so discontinuous with the “lower levels” of 
nature that a common logic of inquiry cannot be adequate to all 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 23 ] 

of them; it therefore concludes that problems affecting human 
destiny must be investigated on the basis of canons of validity and 
mtelligibihty which differ radically from those used in the natural 
sciences. 

Let us examine these contentions. And first, what are we to under- 
stand by the terms “mechanical” and “materialistic”. > When prac- 
ticing physicists characterize an explanation as “mechanical,” they 
mean a theory which, like the one developed by Galileo and New- 
ton, explains a class of changes entirely on the basis of the masses 
and the spatial and temporal relations of bodies. In this quite precise 
sense of the word, Maxwell’s electro-magnetic theory is not a 
mechanical theory, and with its advent in the 19th century the 
earlier hope that the science of mechanics would become the uni- 
versal science of nature was gradually abandoned. But those who 
accuse classical science of being “mechanical” are anything but so 
definite as to the real point of their charge. For according to them 
the Darwinian theory of organic evolution as well as Maxwell’s 
theory of electro-m^netisni are mechanical, although neither of 
these theories satisfies the physicist’s definition of “mechanical.” 
The only clear meaning which can be given to the accusation is 
that classical science is detenmnistic—m the sense that it attempts 
to discover the precise conditions for the occurrence of phenomena, 
without benefit of final causes and without invoking experimentally 
unidentifiable causal agents. 

But if this is the meaning of the charge, the claim that modem 
science no longer operates with mechanical categories is singularly 
ill-founded. As already noted, even classical physics recognized that 
mechanical theories (in the technical sense of the word) are not 
universally adequate; and recent researches into atomic phenomena 
have only fortified this conclusion. There is, however, nothing in 
modern research which requires the abandonment of the generic 
ideal of classical science: to find the determining conditions for the 
occurrence of phenomena, expressible in terms capable of overt 
empirical control Thus, even modern quantum-theory— although 
it employs technical modes of specifying the character of physical 
systems which are different from those used in classical mechanics^ 
—is deterministic or mechanical (in the loose sense) in so far as it 
rigorously specifies the unique physical conditions under which 
certain types of changes will occur. Similarly, modern genetics is 



[ 24 ] Sovereign Reason 

no less deterministic than the Darwinian theory, since the former 
even more completely than the latter has succeeded in disclosing 
the mechanisms or structures involved in the transmission of char- 
acteristics from one generation to another. It is therefore simply 
not true that recent advances in knowledge have demonstrated the 
untenability of the logical canons of classical science. 

The claim that the world-picture according to natural science 
“reduces” everything to bhnd, undifferentiated collocations of ma- 
terial particles, and thus fails to do justice to the distinctive traits 
of human behavior, likewise rests on a misconception as to what 
the sciences in fact accomplish. Consider, for example, the follow- 
ing comments of the late Lord Balfour: 

What are we to say about a universe reduced without remainder to 
collections of electric charges radiating throughout a hypothetical ether^ 
... We can certainly act on our environment, and as certainly our 
actions can never be adequately explained in terms of entities which 
neither think, nor feel, nor purpose, nor know. It constitutes a spiritual 
invasion of the physical world,— it is a miracle. ... We are spiritual 
beings, and must take account of spirimal values.^'The story of a man 
is something more than a mere continuation of the story of matter. 
It is different in kmd. . . 

That this represents a caricature of what the achievements of 
physics imply, will be evident if we recall that the sciences seek to 
determine the precise conditions under which events come into 
being and continue to exist. For in ascertaining those conditions the 
sciences do not thereby deny the existence of any traits found in 
nature, whether in the human scene or elsewhere. In particular, 
physics has assumed the task of finding the most general and per- 
vasive constituents and circumstances of existing things; it does 
not legislate away as unreal or non-existent— and could not do so 
without contradiction— the things and events into whose conditions 
of existence it inquires. The explanations which physics offers for 
the traits and changes it studies, consist of careful specifications of 
the conditions under which those traits and changes occur; and no 
other sense of “explanation” is relevant in discussing its findings. 
Whether these explanations can be stated entirely in terms of a 
special class of entities and their relations (for example, in terms 
of the distribution of electrically charged particles), is a specific 

2. Arthur J. Balfour, in an essay contributed to Science, Religion and 
Reality (edited by Joseph Needham), pp. 15-17. 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 25 ] 

empirical issue which can be resolved only by detailed empirical 
inquiry; it cannot be settled by dialectic, or by an apriori fiat such 
as that the living cannot be explained in terms of non-living. 

Criticisms of natural science such as the following are therefore 
altogether pointless, since they operate with mythological concep- 
tions as to the character of its explanations: 

With the faintest and simplest element of consciousness, natural science 
meets something for which it has no pigeon-hole anywhere in its system. 

. . . Mind at its best is autonomous. Granting that it is connected mys- 
teriously and intimately with physical processes that natural science 
claims as its own, it cannot be reduced to those processes, nor can it be 
explained by the laws of those processes.^ 

Explanations of “mind” in terms of physical processes do not wipe 
out the distinction between the behavior of inorganic masses and 
the distinctive activities of men; nor do they pretend to deduce 
somehow the direction of those activities from physical laws con- 
taining no mention of purposive behavior. Such explanations simply 
state the generalized* conditions for the occurrence of “mind.” 
Accordingly, the only form of “reduction” with which the natural 
sciences may rightly be charged, is the form which consists in 
ascertaining the structures under which specific traits are mani- 
fested; and it is clear that if those sciences failed in effecting such 
a reduction, they would fail in achieving the objective of knowl- 
edge. The conclusion seems unavoidable that those who would 
exclude the logical methods of the natural sciences from fields of 
social inquiry, on the score that these methods commit their users 
to the “reductive fallacy,” are in effect recommending the abandon- 
ment of the quest for the causal determinants of human affairs. 

One final claim, associated with the charge that the logic of natu- 
ral science is “reductive,” remains to be considered— the claim that 
human traits are “emergent properties” on a “higher level” of 
existence than are those with which physics and chemistry are con- 
cerned, so that the methods employed by these disciplines cannot 
be adequate to the study of the higher emergent qualities. Some 
examples will make clear the chief features of the theory of emer- 
gence. However much we may know about the interaction of 
hydrogen and oxygen with other elements, so it is said, it is 

3. Brand Blanshard, “Fact, Value, and Science,” in Science and Man (edited 
by Ruth Nanda Anshen), pp. 189, 203. 



[ 26 ] Sovereign Reason 

impossible to infer from such knowledge the fact that they com- 
bine to form water, and in particular, the qualities which emerge 
when water is formed could never be predicted from those data. 
Similarly, no amount of knowledge concerning the physics and 
physiology of the human body makes it possible to deduce the 
“spiritual” characteristics of the organism as a thinking, purposive 
creature. Nature is thus conceived as a system of levels of emer- 
gence, each level requiring a peculiar mode of study; and a fortiori, 
the distinctive qualities of human beings can be satisfactorily ex- 
plored and understood only when inquiry into them is conducted 
on the basis of a logic specific to “spiritual” subject-matter. 

But the following brief remarks will be sufficient to blunt what- 
ever force the argument from the alleged facts of emergence may 
be supposed to have. It is indeed not possible to deduce the prop- 
erties of water (for example, its transparency or its ability to 
quench thirst) from those of hydrogen and oxygen, if the former 
properties do not enter into the premises from which the deduc- 
tion is attempted. For in general, no statement containing a given 
term “P” can be deduced from a class of statements unless the latter 
also contain that term. In one sense, therefore, the main contention 
of emergent evolution is simply a logical truism. In the second place, 
although the occurrence of certain traits may be left unexplained 
by one theory, a different theory (perhaps a revised form of the 
first one) may supply a satisfactory explanation. For example, the 
theories of physics which were accepted at the beginning of the 
19th century were unable to account for any chemical facts, al- 
though present-day physics is in the position to explain the occur- 
rence of many chemical reactions. Accordingly, whether a quality 
is to be regarded as an “emergent” or not is relative to a specific 
theory, and is not an inherent fact about that quality. It also follows 
that since no theory of science can be regarded as necessarily final, 
traits which at one time are taken to fall into the province of one 
specialized discipline, may at some later date be explained on the 
basis of theories developed in a different branch of science. This 
has certainly been the history of such sciences as chemistry, biology, 
and even psychology, in their relation to physics. And finally, if 
the doctrine of emergence is seen in this light, no clear reasons 
remain why the logic of experimental inquiry— as conducted in the 
natural sciences— has no authority over investigations into human 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 27 ] 

affairs. Indeed, as the natural sciences have become more compre- 
hensive they have provided an enriched understanding of human 
traits. No theoretical limits can be set to such a progressively 
widening scope of the sciences of nature. And what is no less to 
the point, these fresh achievements have involved no surrender, on 
the part of the natural sciences, of the procedural principles under 
whose guidance they obtained their historical successes. 

3 " 

The views which have been noticed thus far attempt to limit the 
scope of scientific methods on the basis of considerations that are 
at least nominally scientific in character. The criticisms of science 
to which attention must next be directed do not even pretend to 
adduce scientific grounds for their claims, and are frankly based 
upon explicit theological and metaphysical commitments for which 
no experimental evidence is invoked. The chief burden of their 
complaints is that science offers no ‘'ultimate explanation” for the 
facts of existence; and* their chief recommendation is the cultivation 
of “ontological wisdom” as the sole method for making “ultimately 
intelligible” both the order of the cosmos and the nature of the 
good life. 

Some citations from recent writers will exhibit more clearly than 
would a paraphrase the unique mixture of pontifical dogmatism, 
oracular wisdom, and condescending obscurantism which seems to 
be the indispensible intellectual apparatus of this school of criticism. 
Professor Gilson characterizes the plight of science as follows: 

This world of ours is a world of change; physics, chemistry, biology, 
can teach us the laws according to which change actually happens to 
it; what these sciences cannot teach us is why this world, taken together 
with its laws, its order, and its intelligibility is, or exists. . . . Scientists 
never ask themselves •why things happen, but honw they happen. Now 
as soon as you substitute the positivist’s notion of relation for the meta- 
physical notion of cause, you at once lose all right to wonder nwhy things 
are, and why they are what they are. . . . Why anything at ail is, or 
exists, science knows not, precisely because it cannot even ask the ques- 
tion. To this supreme question the only answer is that each and every 
particular existential energy, and each and every particular existing 
thing depends for its existence upon a pure Act of existence. In order 
to be the ultimate answer to all existential problems, this supreme cause 
has to be absolute existence. Being absolute, such a cause is self-sufficient; 
if it creates, its creative act must be free. Since it creates not only being 



[ 28 ] Sovereign Reason 

but order, it must be something which at least eminently contains the 
only principle of order known to us in experience, namely, thought.** 

And Professor Maritain, building on the alleged subordination of 
science to metaphysics, indicates some of the immediate conse- 
quences of this hierarchial arrangement: 

Science ... is distinguished from wisdom in this, that science aims at 
the detail of some special field of knowing and deals with the secondary, 
proximate or apparent causes, while wisdom aims at some universal 
knowing and deals with prime and deepest causes, with the highest 
sources of being. . . . Wisdom is not only distinct from but also superior 
to science, in the sense that its object is more universal and more deeply 
immersed in the mystery of things, and in the sense that the function of 
defendmg the first principles of knowledge and of discovering the funda- 
mental structure and organization thereof belongs to wisdom, not to 
science. . . . Science puts means in man’s hands, and teaches men how to 
apply these means for the happiest outcome, not for him who acts, but 
for the work to be done. Wisdom deals with ends in man’s heart, and 
teaches man how to use means and apply science for the real goodness 
and happiness of him who acts, of the person himself. . . . Science is like 
art in this that though both are good in themselves man can put them to 
bad uses and bad purposes: while in so far as man uses wisdom ... he 
can only use it for good purposes. 

The paleontologist does not step out of his sphere when he establishes 
the hypothesis of evolution and applies it to the origin of the human 
being. But the philosopher must warn him that he is out of his field 
when he tries to deny for that reason that the human soul is a spiritual 
soul which cannot emanate from matter, so that if once upon a time the 


4. Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy, pp. 72, 140. Although Whitehead’s 
manner of arriving at his speculative cosmology is radically different from 
that cultivated by neo-Thomists, his evaluations of the hnutanons of natural 
science are frequently not dissimilar. He comments as follows on “the grand 
doctrine of Nature as a self-sufficient, meamngless complex of facts”* “Newton 
left for empirical investigation the determination of the particular stresses 
now existing. In this determination he made a magnificent beginning by iso- 
lating the stresses indicated by his law of gravitation. But he left no hint, 
nvhy in the nature of things there should be any stresses at alL The arbitrary 
motion of the bodies were thus explained by the arbitrary stresses between 
material bodies, conjoined with their spatiality, their mass, and their initial 
states of motion. By introducing stresses— m particular the law of gravitation— 
instead of the welter of detailed transformations of motion, he greatly in- 
creased the systematic aspect of nature. But he left ah the factors of the 
system— more particularly, mass and stress— in the position of detached facts 
devoid of reason for their compresence. He thus illuminated a great philo- 
sophic truth, that a dead nature can ^ve no reasons. All the ultimate reasons 
are in terms of aim at value. A dead nature aims at nothing.” A. N, White- 
head, Modes of Thought, pp. 183-4, italics not in the text. 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 29 ] 

human orgamsm was produced by a mutation of an animal organism, it 
was because of the infusion of a soul created by God.® 

Although criticism of a position is futile when those who hold 
it make a virtue of its mysteries and when they regard themselves 
as superior to the usual canons of scientific intelligibility, those 
who are not so fortunately placed may find the following observa- 
tions not irrelevant. In the first place, there is a perfectly clear sense 
in which science does supply answers as to “why” things happen 
and are what they are. Thus, if we ask why the moon becomes 
eclipsed at certain times, the answer is that at those times the moon 
moves into the earth’s shadow; if we ask why the moon behaves 
in this way, the answer is given in part by the theory of gravita- 
tion; if we ask why bodies behave in the manner predicated by 
this theory, the answer is supplied by the general theory of rela- 
tivity. On the other hand, if we repeat this question concerning 
relativity theory, no further answer is at present forthcoming, so 
that for the present at least this theory is an “ultimate” or “brute” 
fact. Furthermore, if some day relativity theory should become ab- 
sorbed into a unified field-theory embracing both macroscopic 
and microscopic phenomena, the unified field-theory would explain 
why the equations of relativity theory hold, but at the same time 
it would become the (perhaps only temporary) “ultimate” struc- 
tural fact. In science the answer to the question “why” is there- 
fore always a theory, from which the specific fact at issue may be 
deduced when suitable initial conditions are introduced. The point 
of these familiar remarks is that no matter how far the question 
“why” is pressed—and it may be pressed indefinitely— it must termi- 
nate in a theory which is itself not logically demonstrable. For no 
theory which explains why things happen as they do and not other- 
wise can be a logically necessary truth. It follows that those who 
seek to discern the laws of nature to be necessary, as well as those 
who “hope to see that it is necessary that there should be an order 
of nature,” are violating an elementary canon of discoursive thought. 

In the second place, it is obvious that anyone who invokes an 

5. The first paragraph is taken from the essay “Science and Wisdom ” con- 
tained in Sctence and Man, pp. 66-7, 72, 94, The second paragraph is from 
the essay “Science, Philosophy and Faith,” contained in the volume Science, 
Philosophy and Religion, the proceedings of the First Conference on Science, 
Philosophy and Religion, p. 181. 



[ 30 ] Sovereign Reason 

“absolute cause” (or God) to explain “why” the world exists, 
merely postpones settling his accounts with the logic of his ques- 
tion: for the Being who has been postulated as the Creator of the 
world is simply one more being into the reasons of whose existence 
it is possible to inquire. If those who invoke such a Being declare 
that such questions about His existence are not legitimate, they 
surmount a difficulty only by dogmatically cutting-short a discus- 
sion when the intellectual current runs against them. If, on the 
other hand, the question is answered with the assertion that God 
is his own cause, the question is resolved only by falling back 
upon another mystery; and at best, such a “reason” is simply an 
unclear statement of the grounds upon which scientists regard as 
unintelligible the initial “why” as to the world’s existence. But a 
mystery is no answer if the question to which it is a reply has a 
definite meaning; and in the end, nothing is gained m the way of 
intellectual illumination when the discussion terminates in such 
a manner. 

In the third place, the postulation of an ‘^absolute cause” or an 
“ultimate reason” for the world and its structure provides no an- 
swer to any specific question which may be asked concerning any 
particular objects or events in the world. On the contrary, no 
matter what the world were like, no matter what the course of 
events might be, the same Ultimate Cause is offered as an “explana- 
tion.” This is admitted in so many words by Professor Gilson: 

The existence or non-existence of God ... is a proposition whose 
negation or affirmation determines no change whatever in the structure 
of our scientific explanation of the world and is wholly independent of 
the contents of science as such. Supposing, for instance, there be design 
in the world, the existence of God cannot be posited as a scientific 
explanation for the presence of design in the world; it is a metaphysical 
one.® 

But just what does an “explanation” explain when it explains noth- 
ing in particular? What understanding of our world does a meta- 
physics provide which is compatible both with a design in the 
processes of nature as well as with its absence, with the existence 
of specific goods as well as with their non-existence, with one 
pervasive pattern of causal interactions as well as with another? 


<S. Op. cit., p. 141. 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [31] 

A high price in unintelligibility must be paid when the canons of 
scientific discourse and inquiry are abandoned. 

And finally, the assumption that there is a superior and more 
direct way of grasping the secrets of the umverse than the pain- 
fully slow road of science has been so repeatedly shown to be a 
romantic illusion, that only those who are unable to profit from 
the history of the human intellect can seriously maintain it. Cer- 
tainly, whatever enlightenment we possess about ourselves and the 
world has been achieved only after the illusion of a “metaphysical 
wisdom” superior to “mere science” had been abandoned. The 
methods of science do not guarantee that its conclusions are final 
and incorrigible by further inquiry, but it is by dropping the pre- 
tense of a spurious finality and recognizing the fallibility of its 
self-corrective procedures that science has won its victories. It may 
be a comfort to some to learn that in so far as man uses “wisdom” 
he can aim only at the good; since the most diverse kinds of action 
—kindly as well as brutal, beneficent as well as costly in human life 
—are undertaken in the name of wisdom, such a testimonial will 
doubtless enable everyone engaged in such an undertaking to re- 
double his zeal without counting the costs. But it is not wisdom 
but a mark of immaturity to recommend that we simply examine 
our hearts if we wish to discover the good life; for it is just because 
men rely so completely and unrefiectively on their intuitive insights 
and passionate impulses that needless sufferings and conflicts occur 
among them. The point is clear: claims as to what is required by 
wisdom need to be adjudicated if such claims are to be warranted; 
and accordingly, objective methods must be instituted, on the basis 
of which the conditions, the consequences, and the mutual com- 
patibility of different course of action may be established. But if 
such methods are introduced, we leave the miasmal swamps of 
supra-scientific wisdom, and are brought back again to the firm 
soil of scientific knowledge. 


4 * 

The final variety of current criticism of science to be considered 
rests its case on the alleged facts of history* T^he development of 
science, it is admitted, has brought with it an increase in material 
power^ a broadening of the average span of human life, and a wider 
distribution of innumerable goods than was possible in earlier days. 



[ 32 ] Sovereign Reason 

Nevertheless, so the criticism runs, human happiness has not in- 
creased and the quality of life has not improved. On the contrary, 
increased power over material nature has generated a deadening 
monotony and uniformity in men’s lives, has produced ghastly bru- 
talities, cataclysmic wars, and fierce superstitions, and has under- 
mined personal and social security. Science deals with instrumentali- 
ties and is incapable of determimng values; and with the spread of 
secular naturalism and the consequent decline of religious influences, 
men have grown insensitive to the distinction between good and 
evil, and have identified material success with ethical excellence. 
Intellectual historians join hands with preachers and pubhcists in 
placing the blame for contemporary Fascism upon the demoralizing 
effects of positivistic philosophy. And in language solemn and 
threatening Professor Maritain warns his readers of the dreadful 
consequences which allegedly flow from scientific naturalism: 

Let us not delude ourselves; an education in which the sciences of 
phenomena and the corresponding techniques take precedence over phil- 
osophical and theological knowledge is alread^^, potentially, a Fascist 
education; an education in which biology, hygiene and eugenics provide 
the supreme criteria of morality is already, potentially, a Fascist edu- 
cation.'^ 

Whatever may be the validity of the causal imputations contained 
in such criticism, it cannot be denied, unfortunately, that many of 
its characterizations of modem society are well founded; it is cer- 
tainly not the intent of the following comments to dispute them. 
It must nevertheless be noted that the implied judgment, according 
to which the quality of modern life is inferior to that of earlier so- 
cieties unburdened by an institutionalized natural science, is based 
on a definite set of preferences or values in terms of which human 
history is surveyed. But while it is clear that there is nothing rep- 
rehensible in employing definite standards of valuation (for exam- 

7. In the essay “Science, Philosophy and Faith,” op. cit., p. 182. Neo- 
Thomists have no monopoly in the making of such casual imputations. Thus, 
in his essay “Fact and Value m Social Science,” Professor Frank Kmght 
writes as follows: “In the field of social policy, the pernicious notion of 
insmimentalisrn, resting on the claim or assumption of a parallelism between 
social and natural science is actually one of the most serious of the sources of 
danger which threaten destruction to the values of what we have called 
civilization. ... It is a serious reflection that the unsatisfactory state of affairs 
in social science has largely resulted from the very progress of science. , . 
Science and Man (edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen), pp. 325-6. 



ialicious Philosophies of Science [33] 

lie, such as are involved in Catholic Christianity), such standards 
leed to be made explicit and should not be assumed as self-evident 
nd above criticism. For it is sheer dogmatism to assume that only 
me conception of spiritual excellence is valid; and it is the height of 
liscourtesy and parochialism to damn a society as immoral simply 
lecause its standards of excellence diflFer from one’s own. More- 
over, comparative judgments as to the happiness of men are notori- 
ously untrustworthy, unless they are based upon objective measures 
>f well-being. And if the material conditions of life are discounted 
is indications of “true” happiness, the critic’s evaluations of differ- 
,nt cultures are a better guide to his own preferences and loyalties 
.han to the ostensible subject-matter of his judgment. 

Let us turn to the causal imputations contained in the criticism 
under consideration. Almost no argument is required to show that 
f the growth of science may validly be held responsible for the 
Us of modem society, then the fact that men marry may no less 
alidly be declared the cause of the evils of divorce. For surely, 
divorce would be impossible unless men first married, just as our 
'»resent social distresses would not exist unless the advance of sci- 
ntific knowledge had first made possible our present institutional 
tructures. But to convert marriage into the cause of divorce, and 
he advance of secular knowledge into the cause of social ills, is 
“0 convert the context in which problems arise mto an agent respon- 
sible for our inability to master them. As well argue that in order 
0 eliminate the evils of divorce men must stop getting married, as 
“ecommend the de-secularization of modern society as a solution 
or its difficulties; in either case the conversion of context into cause 
^ an unintelligent performance. The development of science has 
rought with it new opportunities for the exercise of human ener- 
gies, and has helped set the stage for the emergence of new problems. 
How many of these problems have remained unsolved because 
ested interests and the cake of custom have prevented the appli- 
;ation to them of the methods of controlled inquiry which the 
natural sciences use so successfully, it is difficult to judge. But in 
any event, the indictment of scientific intelligence as solely respon- 
ible for our present difficulties not only involves an arbitrary 
election of one factor from a complex of others distinguishable in 
ae social scene; it arbitrarily rejects the one instrument from which 
.1 resolution of these difficulties may reasonably be expected. 



[ ] Sovereign Reason 

Consider, finally, the charge that science “cannot determine 
values,” and that therefore the apprehension of the elements of a 
good life must be obtained through some form of emotional experi- 
ence. Now whatever be one’s views as to the nature of values— 
whether they are regarded as relative or absolute, dependent on 
human preferences or not— it must be admitted that a science (such 
as astronomy) which does not concern itself with values and which 
does not contain value-terms in its vocabulary, is incompetent to 
establish value judgments. The thesis that some sciences cannot 
determine values is thus trivially true. On the other hand, every 
rational appraisal of values must take cognizance of the findings of 
the natural and social sciences; for if the existential conditions and 
consequences of the realization of values are not noted, acceptance 
of a scheme of values is a species of undisciplined romanticism. 
Accordingly, unless values are to be affirmed on the basis of un- 
controlled intuition and impulse, all the elements of scientific anal- 
ysis-observation, imaginative reconstruction, dialectic elaboration 
of hypotheses, and experimental verification— must be employed. 
Knowledge of biology and hygiene are indeed not sufficient for an 
adequate conception of the moral life; but if one may Judge from 
the historical functions of some philosophic and theologic ideas 
in perpetuating economic inequality and human slavery, and in 
sanctioning the brutal shedding of human blood, neither is a knowl- 
edge of philosophy and theology. 

It is often urged that what is good for man lies outside the prov- 
ince of scientific method, because the determination of human 
goods requires a sympathetic understanding of the human heart 
and a sensitive, individualized perception of the qualities of human 
personality; and the exercise of such powers, it is maintained, has 
no place in the procedures of science. But this objection rests, at 
bottom, on a failure to distinguish between the psychological and 
sociological conditions under which ideas originate, and the validity 
of those ideas. Thus, it is reported of Schiller that he used to place 
a rotting apple on his desk for the stimulus the odor of the fruit 
provided to his writing; but while this is an interesting item about 
the conditions under which Schiller obtained his inspirations, it 
has no bearing on the issue as to quality of his poetry. Similarly, 
the unusual circumstances— whether personal or social— under which 
many seers and religious prophets obtained their visions are not 



Malicious Philosophies of Science [ 35 ] 

relevant in a consideration of the soundness of their moral exhorta- 
tions. More generally, the psychology and the sociology of research 
are not identical with its logic. Those who disparage the application 
of scientific methods to the evaluation of human goods, on the 
ground that those methods exclude the exercise of a sympathetic 
imagination, are not only mistaken in their factual allegations; they 
are also well on the road to identifying the sheer vividness and the 
emotional overtones of ideas with their vaKdity. 



2 

Recent Philosophies 
of Science 


-Although the name “philosophy of science” is a recent one, the 
types of inquiry which it covers are not. Speculation on the mean- 
ing and conditions of our knowledge of the world is as old as sys- 
tematic inquiry, and accordingly the first writings on the philosophy 
of science are those of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, the works of 
Plato and Aristotle are the beginning of that long series of com- 
mentaries upon the content, the nature, and the limitations of science 
which are the characteristic products of the history of philosophy 
itself. It would be an anomaly if an institution with consequences as 
important for human weal and woe as western science has had, 
should not constantly receive interpretations of its significance. And 
it is surely no accident that some of the most vital periods of philo- 
sophic activity coincide with periods of “revolutionary” scientific 
changes. 

It is in large measure because we are living in a period of such 
changes in science— particularly in physics, logic, and mathematics 

[36] 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 37 ] 

—that the philosophy of science has been receiving the attention of 
philosophically minded scientists as well as of professional philoso- 
phers. The process of adjusting and reorganizing older conceptions 
in the light of newer ones is a perpetual feature of reflective inquiry, 
and the task has traditionally been assumed by philosophy. 

However, it is not alone the sheer novelty of recent findings which 
has brought the philosophy of science into prommence. One of 
the arresting features in the history of science is that, although, in 
terms of the control it provides and the contributions it makes to 
daily living, science has come ever closer to men’s bosoms, the theo- 
retical foundations of the special sciences have become progressively 
less familiar and their accounts of the ways of the world have become 
more puzzhng. The assurance frequently given to the perplexed 
beneficiary of science that its theoretical foundations are simply 
“organized common-sense” carries little conviction or enlighten- 
ment, if that organized common-sense outrages every familiar belief 
he holds. Confusion, not clarity, emerges from tales of expanding 
spaces, waves of probability, particles with velocity but no position, 
or the determination of present activities by configurations existing 
at some future time. In spite of its practical successes modem science 
thus seems to cast a veil over the moving forces of nature; and the 
familiar world of sights, sounds and smells, of substantial objects, 
solid bodies, and stable conditions of behavior, appears to be cut 
off from the world reported by science. 

The status of the abstractly formulated objects and relations of 
science, and their mode of connection with the gross and familiar 
objects and relations of daily experience, are therefore the deepest 
concern of contemporary philosophies of science. No writer fall- 
ing under the loose rubric “philosopher of science” completely 
neglects the task— designated by Whitehead as the distinctly philo- 
sophic one— of being a “critic of abstractions,” and of attempting to 
assess the relations of the unobservable and abstract entities of sci- 
ence to the qualitative and concrete environment. Philosophers of 
science differ profoundly in their modes of approach and in their 
conclusions; they differ less strikingly in the general problem to 
which they set themselves. 

It is not feasible within a limited space to discuss the different 
philosophies of science currently proposed Instead, a few influential 
types will be distinguished and the characteristic views of their 



[ 38 ] Sovereign Reason 

representatives will be outlined. Moreover, while there are analyses 
of science which base themselves on the actual or supposed findings 
of biology or upon the allegedly distinctive character of the histor- 
ical and social sciences, it is the philosophies of science whose point 
of departure is the physical and mathematical sciences which, in 
recent years and for obvious reasons, have received the major share 
of attention. The present survey will in the main confine itself to 
these, and four fairly distinct approaches to the interpretation of 
science will be considered. They are as follows. 

(1) The approach seeking to identify categorial traits in imme- 
diate experience which are believed to be pervasive traits of every- 
thing real and which may therefore be discovered in the objects 
disclosed by the sciences. In terms of these pervasive traits continui- 
ties are claimed to be established between the remote and the near, 
between entities not accessible to direct observation and those which 
are, between the abstractions of science and the concrete objects 
of familiar experience. The outstanding writer who approaches the 
materials of the theoretical sciences in thig vein is unquestionably 
Whitehead. 

(2) The approach which emphasizes the rich content of expe- 
rience in domains other than theoretical physics as against the 
‘‘abstract ballet” of theoretical formulations, and which accepts as 
final the apparent incompatibility of the findings of everyday expe- 
rience with those of mathematical physics. It nevertheless erects a 
bridge between these “two worlds”; it offers a theory as to the 
way in which mathematical physics is constructed, and concludes 
that its man-made but opaque constructions hide a reality similar 
to that which we find in ourselves. The best-known protagonist of 
this view is Eddington. 

(3) The approach which accepts theoretical science simply as 
an instrument of control, and for which all problems concerning the 
meaning of theoretical science are resolved either in terms of its 
social usefulness or in terms of the principles of dialectic materialsm. 
This approach is frequently, though not necessarily, coupled with a 
historical thesis concerning the major forces making for progress in 
science. 

(4) Finally, the approach which seeks to fix the meaning of 
scientific statements by examining the explicit rules or habits gov- 
erning their usage. It insists that scientific conclusions cannot be 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 39 ] 

imderstood unless the procedures involved in testing and applying 
them are taken into account, and it maintains that clarity of under- 
standing can be won only by noting the specific functions within 
inquiry of theories and concepts. This approach fosters the critical 
study of scientific language and behavior. It is an approach which 
frequently goes under the somewhat unprecise and misleading name 
of “operationalism.” 


I. 

Relativity and quantum theory have been the occasion for a 
thoroughgoing criticism of the ontology alleged to be at the basis 
of classical physics. This ontology, called ‘'scientific materialism,’' 
derives its strength from the techniques and concepts employed in 
the mechanics developed by Newton and his successors. In that 
system, according to A^itehead’s interpretation, space and time are 
simply vast receptacles filled with senseless, purposeless matter. Bits 
of matter are assumed to have sharply confined properties, and the 
full natures of material# objects can therefore be specified by their 
spatio-temporal positions, independently of any essential relations 
to other regions and other times. In consequence, matter “just does 
what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external rela- 
tions which do not spring from the nature of its being.” 

The classical device of isolating certain features of bodies for the 
purpose of theoretical analysis is legitimate; but it becomes an 
instance of the fallacy of “misplaced concreteness,” and more par- 
ticularly of the fallacy of “simple location,” when those features 
are assumed to be exhaustive of the concrete nature of things. It is 
a fallacy, according to Whitehead, because no concretely existing 
things possess observable features with simple location or without 
essential relations to the remote occurrences in the full universe. It 
is because of the commission of this fallacy, he believes, that the 
Nature celebrated by poetry and religion was converted by mech- 
anistic science into a scene of purposeless activity, where stars and 
molecules and human beings “blindly run,” and where colors and 
sounds and smells are no longer traits of things but are properties of 
percipient minds. Nature was bifurcated into a qualitative world 
apprehended in perception and a world causing those qualities, and 
no intelligible connection was supplied between these heterogeneous 
realities. But in truth there are no actual points with dimensions, no 



[ ] Sovereign Reason 

lines withotit breadth, no particles of matter with sharply confined 
regions of influence or non-relational properties. Whitehead’s first 
task is to explain how such neat abstractions are derived from the 
immediately apprehended features of the concrete world. His second 
task is to formulate a system of categories and principles, adequate 
to the world of direct experience as well as to the remote regions of 
the world explored by theoretical physics. 

The first task is discharged by him through the device baptized 
as the “principle of extensive abstraction,” which has been hailed 
as the “prolegomena to every future philosophy of nature.” Its 
main idea can be briefly illustrated. We have no direct experience 
of dimensionless mathematical points, and no reason to believe that 
any bit of reality is such a point. However, we do have direct expe- 
rience of one box or volume extending over another. Imagine a series 
of Russian eggs in which each egg encloses another; we must, how- 
ever, suppose that there are an infinite number of eggs in the set, in 
order that there should be no smallest egg which would enclose no 
other egg. As we follow the series of converging volumes we ap- 
proach something that seems like a point. There is, however, no 
limiting volume in the set. Instead of postulating a dimensionless 
point as the limit, for whose existence there is no evidence whatso- 
ever, Whitehead proposes to take the infinite series of convergent 
volumes as itself constituting a point. It turns out that points so 
defined have all the requisite mathematical properties, while at the 
same time they are exhibited as entities standing in complex rela- 
tions to all bodies and not as simple substances isolated from every- 
thing else. In analogous ways, by specifying appropriate “abstractive 
routes,” Whitehead defines other configurations and abstract no- 
tions studied in physics. In this way, it is claimed, we may bridge the 
gaps between the concrete facts of sense and the refined concepts 
of science. 

The primary object of Whitehead’s cosmological scheme is to 
prevent the bifurcation of nature into an accessible and a trans- 
cendental reality, by opposing to the philosophy of scientific ma- 
terialism a philosophy of organism. His central assumption is that 
the “immediate occasions” accessible to direct inspection (e.g., the 
self-knowledge we have of our body’s activity), must display the 
categories and the structures of activity fundamental to all of nature. 
The most concrete things are identified as events, and their inherent 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 41 ] 

character is to exhibit transition or passage into other events. But 
this passage is not a linear succession of discrete and independent 
events, since however narrowly an event may be specified further 
determinations are presupposed: every event extends over other 
events and is in turn included in still others. Every emergent event 
intrinsically involves some aspect of all things, since it mirrors within 
its own limited being the larger field in which it finds itself. An 
event, hke a Leibnizian monad, is full with the past and big with 
the future. Thus, the event consisting of the apprehension of a 
landscape does not involve a castle, a field, a cloud, simply in them- 
selves; that event is constituted by the perception of castle, field, 
and cloud ‘‘over there” from the standpoint of the perceptual uni- 
fication “over here.” 

Nature is thus a structure of perspectival unifications and evolving 
processes. The stable objects of science and familiar experience are 
recurrent patterns of aspects within these unifications or events. 
These “enduring objects,” whether they be electrons, atoms, moun- 
tains, or animals, are taken by Whitehead to be “organisms” of vari- 
ous degrees of complexity. They have “life-histories,” they are 
partially formed by the “inheritance” of aspects from their own 
past, they have “memories” of earlier segments of their life-histories, 
they are capable of “envisaging” possibilities as yet unrealized, and 
they form “societies” with powers of “creative adaptation” to their 
environment. The human organism is itself a society, and the para- 
digm of its structure is found everywhere in nature. Every feature 
in this cosmology thus corresponds to some factor in what is 
alleged to be our immediate experience. Its theology as well as 
further details and refinements must, however, be passed over. 

Whitehead’s philosophy of science is so full of acute insights and 
is supported by so much expert knowledge of the details of theoreti- 
cal science, that only the blind and the foolhardy may seem capable 
of rejecting it. But however that may be, two fundamental objec- 
tions to it must be briefly stated. 

(a) The principle of extensive abstraction succeeds in doing none 
of the things that may reasonably be expected from an instrument 
devised for the criticism of abstraction. It is a mathematical calculus 
whose application to the matters at hand raises the very problems 
it was intended to solve. Thus, for mathematical purposes, a point 
may be defined as an infibciite set of overlapping volumes. But no 



[ 42 ] Sovereign Reason 

empirical subject-matter involves infinite sets of volumes, and no 
experiment could decide whether something alleged to be a point 
is indeed a point if the relations between an infinite set of objects 
would first have to be determined. Whitehead’s principle does not 
therefore explain how any of the concepts of science, frequently 
defined in terms of infinite series or limiting processes, are connected 
with and applied to finite subject-matter. 

(b) The attempt to understand the esoteric objects of science in 
terms of the categories of direct experience suffers from at least one 
fatal defect. These categories possess only such meaning as the con- 
text of overt human behavior provides; accordingly, their extension 
to new contexts having diflFerent operative qualities involves serious 
ambiguities and distortions of words. Is it in any way illuminating 
to characterize molecules as societies of atoms, possessing memories, 
and with powers of choice and creative adaptation? The ^‘society” 
of atoms is different from any type of human society, their capacity 
for ‘‘memory,” “choice,” and “creative adaptation” is admittedly 
unlike the similarly named powers of human<^)eings; ruling out these 
differences converts atoms into human beings or, conversely, the 
latter into the former. The use of like-sounding labels for distinct 
things serves to create only the appearance of systematic knowledge 
and clear understanding, and invites confusion by wrenching words 
from their anchorage in determinate and recognizable meanings. 


2 . 

Perhaps the most widely read contemporary writer on the general 
significance of science is Eddington. Who does not know his famous 
account of the two tables, one of them the commonplace article of 
furniture, the other the scientific object— the former extended, com- 
paratively permanent, colored, solid and substantial, the latter 
mostly emptiness and a collection of insubstantial electric charges 
rushing about with great speed? Who has not heard his story of 
the unfortunate elephant sliding down a grassy hillside which, in 
the hands of the physicist, all become dissolved into bundles of 
pointer-readings? 

These bright images do not tell the whole story of Eddington’s 
philosophy; and although the whole story cannot here be told, the 
general outline of its plot can be explained. Four leit-motifs are 
fundamental to it. In the first place, Eddington claims that physical 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 43 ] 

tiieory studies the linkage of pointer-readings, and that these link- 
ages hang together in an endless cycle, with no intrinsic reference 
to the actual world. According to him, the definitions of physics 
have a circular character, each being specified in terms of others, 
but without revealing what substantial material they stand for. Thus 
electric force is said to be defined as something which causes the 
motion of an electric charge, while an electric charge is something 
which exerts electric force; accordingly, ‘‘an electric charge is 
something that exerts something that produces motion of something 
that exerts something that produces . . 

Somewhere, however, a reference to what is actual must be intro- 
duced; for example, a certain set of pointer-readings must be identi- 
fied with the color red. And according to Eddington, it is in 
consciousness that contact with actuality is made. For all our 
knowledge of the environing world comes to us in the form of 
messages transmitted along the nerve-fibres to the seat of conscious- 
ness, and it is only “our own ends of the fibres that we actually 
know.” Everything else«is reconstructed by inference from the con- 
tents of our consciousness. Accordingly, the material of the actuality 
with which direct contact is made is of mental character. This is 
the second leit-motif. 

Science tells us nothing about the intrinsic natures of atoms or 
elephants or anything else, since for it they are simply schedules 
of pointer-readings. The world of science is thus a “shadow world,” 
shadowing forth an “external world” whose nature is inscrutable 
for physics. Since, however, the sole point at which contact is made 
between theory and actuality reveals the latter to be of mental stuff, 
why not accept this as an indication that the inscrutable substance is 
also mental^ This is indeed Eddington’s conclusion. The stuff of 
the world is mind-stuff, and the symbolic world of science has for 
its substratum something akin to thought, something in which our 
own mental consciousness lies, and something in which we may find 
a Universal Mind. 

The fourth theme concerns the logical status of such laws of 
nature as the law of gravitation and the laws of converdon of 
mass and energy. These laws seem to formulate objective struc- 
'tures of the world. But on Eddington’s view, the permanence 
and invariance which we seem to note in the flux of existence are 
not objective traits of the latter; they are evidence for the mind’s 



[ 44 ] Sovereign Reason 

demand for permanence, for the fact that the processes of nature 
have been fitted into frames of law which are of the mind’s own 
choosing. Eddington thus follows Kant in all essentials if not 
in details. He attempts to deduce the fundamental principles and 
constants of physics from a priori assumptions concerning the 
mind’s powers, and thereby claims to show that not only is the 
stuff of existence spiritual but that its basic laws also spring from 
the mind’s activity. 

The mainstays of Eddington’s argument are well-worn articles 
of furniture in the mansions of traditional philosophy. His sub- 
jectivism, his religious pan-psychism, his apriorism, are familiar 
to readers of Berkeley, Lotze and Kant. It is impossible to state 
in short compass the serious difSculties which these positions have 
to face, and present comment must be reserved for raising briefly 
just one issue. How relevant as critiques of scientific abstrac- 
tions are Eddington’s writings? The answer here suggested is 
that they are of negligible relevance, because he fails in the main 
to examine the concepts and techniques of physics in terms of 
their recognized meanings and functions, and because his argu- 
ment thrives on using terms in one context in a way which is intel- 
ligible only in a very different one. 

Two examples must suffice to make clear as well as to support 
this charge. Every set of pointer-readings (e.g., the mass of an 
elephant) represents distinctions in qualities and behaviors with 
respect to which laboratory instruments have been previously cali- 
brated; the numbers are theoretically significant only in so far 
as they are obtained in definite ways from definite material. The 
process of measurement is therefore not confined to reading off the 
coincidences of pointers with marks on a scale. Consequently, 
in no identifiable sense is the world of physics an opaque, shadowy 
world. Again, Eddington contrasts the “common-sense table” with 
a “scientific table,” and implies that because the former is “solid” 
while the latter is “mostly emptiness” the common-sense and the 
scientific views are incongruous. But the expressions “solid” and 
“mostly emptiness” are defined or specified in just those contexts 
in which it is appropriate to predicate the former of tables and not 
the latter. If critical tests show that a given table is solid, the anal- 
ysis of the table into a structure of electrons is valid only if that 
structure exhibits the property in question; and for that structure 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 45 ] 

of electrons the characterization “mostly emptiness” has no as- 
signed meaning. It is therefore difficult to escape the conviction 
that the foundations of Eddington’s philosophy of science consist 
of outrageous puns. 


3 - 

The third type of philosophy of science will require only brief 
exposition. It is professed, among others, by a number of scientists 
in this country and England, whose object is to show the social 
implications of theoretical research and thereby to rob modem 
theories of their air of mystery. They explain, frequently with 
admirable lucidity, the new sources of power opened up by science, 
the economies in human effort which it is capable of effecting, and 
the close interdependence of science and the technological arts. 
The dominant emphasis is thus placed upon scientific theories as 
engineers’ “blue-prints for action,” rather than as disclosures of 
some final reality. 

There might be little to object to this approach to science if 
those who take it would not confuse their thesis by other claims: 
that scientific research ought always to be conducted with the 
social good in view, or that all significant research is in fact deter- 
mined by the organization and practical needs of society. There 
is, however, no evidence for the proposition that a warm social 
conscience is the best guide for the conduct of research; there is 
no ground for assuming that everyone knows what is socially 
desirable, that what is not of immediate social value will never 
prove to be so, or that devotion to socially valuable results neces- 
sarily contributes to the fullest development of systematic knowl- 
edge, There is overwhelming evidence to show that the content 
and direction of theoretical research is in the main controlled by 
technical problems internal to the sciences, and that changes in 
the social economy do not in general constitute the sufficient con- 
ditions for the specific content of theoretical inquiries. 

A number of writers in this group make the further claim that 
the methods as well as the conclusions of science conform to the 
triad of “dialectical principles” sacred to many followers of Hegel 
and Marx. For example, Levy has argued that the occurrence of 
a distinct type of wave produced by a ship after it reaches a 
critical velocity illustrates the law of abrupt change of quality 



[ 46 ] Sovereign Reason 

with sufficient increase of quantity; and Haldane has borne wit- 
ness to the inestimable value of all three laws in his own biologi- 
cal researches. Space is lacking to examine these and other claims 
for the virtues of the dialectic laws. It must suffice to recall Ein- 
stein’s remark that philosophers are fortunate indeed in being 
always able to establish the agreement of the latest findings of 
science with their own metaphysical principles. The principles 
of dialectic can be guaranteed never the fail, because their terms 
have no fixed content; they can be stretched to cover any facts 
whatsoever, after the facts have been independently established. 
Were it not for the mysterious profundity claimed for them, and 
did they not serve to check inquiry by the glib finality with which 
they resolve all problems, the laws of dialectic could be left un- 
reproached as a curious verbal game. As instruments for disen- 
tangling the web of theoretical constructions, however, they are 
as barren as the purest of vestal virgins. 

No single writer can be taken as an adequate representative of 
the fourth approach to the philosophy of science, for this ap- 
proach does not aim at a compact system but at painstaking anal- 
yses of the details of scientific procedure. A few of the more 
prominent names associated with it must, however, be mentioned; 
Mach, Poincare, Duhem, Campbell, and Peirce, for their analyses 
of the structure of physical theories and definitions; Russell, Witt- 
genstein, Tarski, and Carnap, for their contributions to the logic 
and methodology of the formal sciences; James, Dewey, Cohen, 
Neurath, and Woodger, for their critiques of abstractions in 
biology, psychology, and social theory. But this brief roster sug- 
gests only faintly the wide range of specific analyses which have 
been made. 

The writers who fall into this group do not form a distinctive 
“philosophical school”; there are among them realists, pragmatists, 
positivists, Kantians, and solipsists. None the less, there are some 
common principles of analysis implicit in their contributions— 
even though, unfortunately, they do not always conform to them. 
In the &st place, there is a distrust of wholesale philosophizing 
which lives upon isolating conclusions from the procedures war- 
ranting them, and which fails to note either the hypothetical char- 



Recent Philosophies of Science [ 47 ] 

acter of scientific constructions or the distinct logical functions 
these have in deterrninate situations. Accordingly, effort is con- 
centrated upon studying the overt and symbolic operations in- 
tegral to scientific research, and upon analysis of particular theo- 
ries and concepts. Stress is also placed on the facts that the con- 
clusions of science are not necessarily final, that science develops 
by a self-corrective method, and that it does not rest upon self- 
evident truths. 

Secondly, there is a striving after precision of statement, and 
a keen awareness of the intellectual traps which language may 
create for the unwary. With the rejection of the doctrine that 
clarity is a matter of apprehending simple ideas or essences, the 
attempt is made to discover the meaning of terms by study of the 
overt uses to which they are subject. Much labor thus goes into 
formulating and making explicit the rules of usage or the habits 
which govern the meaning of terms. The speculative, construc- 
tive character of scientific theories is recognized, and effort is 
therefore made to discriminate those features in them which are 
determined by stubborn fact from those which serve simply as a 
scaffolding for the scientist’s activity. 

And thirdly, scientific constructions are often critically evalu- 
ated without legislating to the scientist the methods or the limits 
of his specific enterprise. For it is often possible, in terms of canons 
of evidence implicit in the traditions of science, to exhibit flaws 
and unsupported claims in scientific constructions, or to point out 
the distinctive logical features and advantages of alternative con- 
ceptions. On the other hand, the history of the so-called ‘logic 
of discovery” shows the futility of seeking prescriptions for ob- 
taining success in research. Writers in this group are often con- 
cerned with the logical evaluation of scientific formulations, but 
not with canons for discovering them. 

A few simple illustrations will perhaps convey the spirit of this 
approach to the philosophy of science. 

(a) It has been said, even by eminent physicists, that though 
we may know much about what energy does^ we do not know 
what it is. But to say that we know what energy does, means that 
the equations of physics containing this term are supported by ade- 
quate evidence and that the circumstances under which those equa- 
tions may be applied are fairly well established. Since the mean- 



[ 48 ] Sovereign Reason 

ing of the term “energy” in a theoretical science is determined by 
the system of equations into which it enters and by the rules gov- 
erning their usage, the word hides no mystery; we do m fact 
know what energy “really is” if these equations and rules are 
known. The puzzles generated by recent theories according to 
which certain particles of matter may have determinate velocities 
but not simultaneously determinate positions, can be removed in 
an analogous way. For in this context the phrase “particle of mat- 
ter” is employed according to rules which differ from the rules 
governing this phrase in other more familiar contexts. Accord- 
ingly, we must not associate the usual images with the phrase, 
so that the alleged incongruity of the physical world with the 
world of experience turns out to be simply a difference in the 
way like-sounding phrases are employed in different situations. 
But this is a familiar phenomenon, and we have learned long ago 
that the word “work” can have different applications in mechanics 
from those it has in economics, without either of these disciplines 
being therefore incoherent or unintelligible. ^ 

(b) Legal and political theory is a fertile field for the conver- 
sion of modes of behavior into substantial agencies; and the reifica- 
tion of terms like “property,” “contract,” “sovereignty,” “equality,” 
and “freedom,” have often stood in the way of effective social 
reform. Thus a problem frequently discussed is the nature of “cor- 
porate personality.” Legally incorporated groups can conduct their 
affairs with advantages lacking to men not so organized, but for 
many purposes corporations have the legal status of “persons ” 
They are, however, a curious kind of persons, for they cannot be 
imprisoned or die natural deaths; and they may transact business 
in one place though legally they have their locus in another. Ac- 
cordingly, the nature of corporate personality has puzzled many 
jurists, and they have argued that corporations have the status of 
spiritual beings— disembodied and yet efficacious, self-subsistent but 
with inherent rights of individual men. Such a hypostasis is un- 
necessary, however, if the significance of the attribution of “per- 
sonality” to corporations is examined operationally. For a corpora- 
tion is precisely that kind of “person” which the law of the land 
specifies: its nature is completely exhausted by the permitted ways 
or possibilities of action compatible with the legal system in force. 
There is thus no more mystery in the fact that a corporation has 



its legal focus in one place while it acts in another, than in the 
fact that a bell is located in one room and is heard in another— both 
facts can be converted into insoluble puzzles, if the modes of 
behavior are first excluded from the ‘‘natures” of things considered 
and then conceived as additional substances. The concepts of the 
social sciences thus lend themselves to precisely the same sort of 
analysis as those of the physical sciences; they are intelligible in 
terms of the rules and habits implicit in the applications which are 
made of them. 

It would be pleasant to report that those who profess to fol- 
low this approach to the philosophy of science always conform 
to its ideals. This is, regrettably, not possible. Careless analyses, 
loose formulations, hasty generalizations, and commitments to prior 
philosophical positions, frequently mar the work of even out- 
standing proponents of this conception of philosophy; and in the 
attempt to cleanse speculation of irrelevant and hampering accre- 
tions, dirty children are occasionally emptied with dirty water. 
The injunction to conduct analyses of concepts and theories with 
a sober eye on their contexts and functions is easier to preach than 
to follow, and it is apparently not difficult to believe that pro- 
grams for such work are a sufficient earnest of achievement. Did 
space permit, chapter and verse could be cited to support these 
critical remarks. Nevertheless, the ideal which inspires this ap- 
proach is not proved to be invalid or worthless because it is not 
embodied, completely and always, in the works of those who fol- 
low it; it is a difficult ideal, and one must be grateful for the fact 
that it is realized so often and so well. 

Enough has perhaps been said concerning these four approaches 
to the philosophy of science to supply the reader with some basis 
for a comparative evaluation. But whatever be his judgment, it is 
clearly not necessary for him to reject any insights which writers 
cultivating different approaches have contributed to the sober 
understanding of the scientific enterprise. One should not forget 
Whitehead’s warning that “a Nemesis waits upon those who de- 
liberately avoid avenues of knowledge.” The present essay, how- 
ever, is obviously written with the conviction that a fruitful and 
illuminating type of philosophy of science will devote itself whole- 
heartedly to the contextual and functional analysis represented by 
the fourth of these approaches. 



3 

Philosophy 

and the American Temper 


A. NATION COMMITTED to a democratic way of life, but which 
prescribes for its citizens a set of beliefs concerning the nature of 
the cosmos and man’s place in it, is a contradiction in terms. When 
permitted to reflect freely upon fundamental questions, men are 
stimulated to thought by diverse experiences and divergent tradi- 
tions; and under these circumstances the world comes to be viewed 
from many different perspectives and portrayed in many different 
colors. But the freedom to develop alternative conceptions of nature 
^nd man, even though some of them may be grossly inadequate to 
their subject matter, is an essential part of the liberal, democratic 
tradition. There is accordingly no official American philosophy. 

Nor is there, contrary to the tales repeated by many foreign 
observers, any unique American philosophy, stemming from native 
seed, nourished exclusively by native soil, and flowering in all but 
lonely profusion in all parts of the land. Only unfamiliarity with 
the variety of doctrines professed by academic teachers and reflec- 

[50] 



Philosophy and the American T emper [ 51 ] 

tive men of letters in America, or inability to resist an impulse for 
popular caricature, can produce such a claim. Ever since the settle- 
ment of the American continent, the commerce of ideas between it 
and Europe has been continuous, and the fundamental beliefs and 
habits of mind of American intellectuals have always been swayed 
by winds of doctrine coming from foreign shores. Even those modes 
of thought which have often been identified as distinctively Amer- 
ican (for example, Puritanism, New England Transcendentalism, 
and Pragmatism) are historically related to intellectual movements 
which have flourished across the Atlantic— to British Deism and 
Empiricism, to the many varieties of German Philosophical Idealism, 
and to French Positivism and Voluntarism. There is at least a grain 
of truth in the witticism that philosophies which become moribund 
in Europe obtain a second lease upon life when transplanted to 
America. In any event, it is not possible to cite a type of philosophy 
current in America which has not its identical counterpart, or at 
least its unmistakable analogue, in other countries. 

It would indeed be ^trange if it were otherwise. For although 
the political and social experience of America has in many respects 
been unique, contemporary America shares with western Europe a 
comparable literary and religious heritage, a similar social and eco- 
nomic structure, and above all an identical science. Geographical 
distance does not by itself produce differences in fundamental atti- 
tudes and beliefs. There is, to be sure, scarcely any evidence for the 
widespread view that systems of philosophy, like other manifesta- 
tions of the human spirit, are simply the “reflections” of the pre- 
vailing economic structure of a society, and that there is therefore 
a point-to-point correspondence between the history of ideas and 
the socio-economic changes in the life of a people. But even in its 
most abstract reaches philosophy is surely a commentary upon ex- 
perience, so that men steeped in similar cultural traditions and con- 
fronted with similar materials for reflections will in general adopt 
comparable modes of viewing their place in the world. 

Nevertheless, when proper qualifications are made, it is not untrue 
to claim that a certain habit of mind and a set of general convic- 
tions characterize the writings of many professional philosophers 
in America which contrast sharply with the temper and the content 
of much foreign thought. But one must hasten to add that these 
convictions also contrast sharply with many intellectual currents 



[ 52 ] Sovereign Reason 

long and firmly established in the country, as well as with recent 
importations that promise to acquire a wide following: with the 
still influential survivals of the once dominant Calvinistic theologies; 
with the rosy-hued philosophies of progress, which for a time re- 
placed these latter in popular favor and which continue to exercise 
a hold on many contemporary minds; with the current revivals of 
the Augustinian emphasis on the inherent sinfulness of man, and 
with the many calls to salvation through renunciation of wordly 
effort; with absolute idealism in its many forms, still not without, 
defenders among the older generation of philosophers as well as 
among the younger ones; with a militant Thomism, which in recent 
years has acquired vigorous camp-followers in lay seats of learning; 
with phenomenology, stimulated to lush growth by the recent influx 
of European scholars; and with Existenzphilosophie, suddenly fash- 
ionable in literary circles because of French influence, though at 
the moment without energetic advocates among professional philos- 
ophers. 

An adequate portrayal of the contemporary American scene 
would have to give more than incidental mention to these contrasting 
currents of thought. If they receive but scant notice in the present 
account, it is because the movement in philosophy to be briefly 
described appears to express more adequately than any of these the 
dominant temper of American life. For it is a movement which is 
profoundly influenced by the achievements of both theoretical and 
applied science, and which malces its largest appeal to a people filled 
with a stmrdy faith in the power of intelligent thought and action 
to solve the problems besetting mankind. Without being narrowly 
practical-minded or philistine in its loyalties, without undervaluing 
the liberalizing functions of art, contemplative reflection and theo- 
retical inquiry, it voices a frankly “this-worldly” philosophy. It 
expresses the aspirations of a people still young enough to believe 
that the good life can be achieved through an overt participation 
in worldly affairs, rather than through a melancholy resignation. 
It subscribes to the view that the things most dear to mankind are 
brought into existence and are sustained in their functions by natural 
forces; and it therefore finds only a romantic sentimentalism in the 
conception according to which men are wanderers in an inherently 
hostile world who must take their directions from supernatural 
guides. It counts among its adherents a number of the older gener- 



Philosophy and the American Temper [ 53 ] 

ation of philosophers, but it also prides itself on the fact that it 
has the vigorous support of many of the keenest and best disciplined 
minds among the younger men. It is without question America’s 
most significant contribution to philosophic intelligence. 

This philosophy has been variously designated as object vie rela- 
tivism, functional realism, contextualism, naturalism, and process 
philosophy. Its central conceptions concerning man and nature have 
sometimes been identified with the pragmatism or instrumentalism 
of Peirce, James, Mead and Dewey. This identification is both 
mistaken and misleading. Although contextualistic naturalism has 
historical roots in pragmatism, and although Dewey himself is an 
exponent of both, those professing the former do not in general feel 
committed to the technical pragmatic doctrines concerning the 
nature of truth or the function of knowledge, and in the main they 
have no liking for the pragmatic or instrumentalist label. Indeed, the 
specific pragmatic conceptions propounded by James and Dewey, 
which caused such a flurry of excitement in the first quarter of the 
present century, now appear to be of little more than historical in- 
terest to the younger generation of American philosophers— in part, 
no doubt, because the intellectual storm raised by those conceptions 
has cleared the air of the traditional complacencies and barren self- 
deceptions against which pragmatism was a protest. Unlike con- 
textualistic naturalism, it is problematic whether, except in some 
training schools for teachers and in centers of learning where the 
personal influence of the founders of pragmatism is still alive, prag- 
matism retains the expansive dynamism of a growing movement. 
Nonetheless, pragmatism is the matrix out of which, at least in Amer- 
ica, contextualistic naturalism has emerged. For certain features of 
pragmatic philosophy that had been subordinated to its theory of 
truth and knowledge, have subsequently received an independent 
development; and fortified by fresh analyses of scientific method as 
well as by the findings of biological inquiry, they have been forged 
into a distinctive outlook upon man and nature. 

Contextualistic naturalism is not a finished intellectual edifice, 
and perhaps it will never develop into one. Though much periodical 
literature indicates whence and whither it is tending, there certainly 
is no one treatise that could be cited as the Surmrn of its doctrines. 
However, many of the later writings of John Dewey, W. H. 
Sheldon's Americans Progressive Philosophy^ and various essays in 



[ 54 ] Sovereign Reason 

the recent collection entitled Naturalism and the Human Spirit 
(edited by Y. H. Krikorian) contain at least its basic ground plan. 
Those out of sympathy with it are likely to judge it as eclectic, 
loose-jointed, and at a number of essential points even distressingly 
vague. But those who subscribe to its main tenets believe that a 
working philosophy cannot be more tidy and architechtonically 
complete than the subjects of which it treats. 

For a cardinal thesis of contextualistic naturalism is the essentially 
incomplete but fundamentally plural character of existence, in 
which no overarching pattern of development can be discerned, and 
in which qualitative discontinuities and loose conjunctions are as 
ultimate features as are firm connections and regular cycles of 
change. Events are recognized to have causes and consequences, 
without beginning and without preordained end. But though events 
are genuinely related to other events, they are not related to all 
events in the same way, not everything is relevant to the occurrence 
of everything else, and no events are related to others by logical 
necessity. Indeed, things may be caught up in some eddy of the 
flux of change which can alter their customary modes of behavior 
and transform them in a manner not always deducible from the 
known conditions of their normal existence. Novelty, contingency, 
and alternative possibilities of development, are accordingly basic 
features of nature. The disciplined human perspective upon the flux 
of events does not betray its observers, and the mixture of direction 
and chaos which that perspective reveals is not the superficial appear- 
ance of a fixed plan working itself out with inexorable logic. 

In consequence, contextualistic naturalists exhibit a profound 
distrust of philosophic systems which attempt to catch once for all 
the variegated contents of the world in a web of dialectical neces- 
sity. They are keenly conscious of the limitations of purely formal 
analysis even when they engage in it. For they recognize that a logic, 
no matter how subtle, provides no warrant concerning matters of 
fact unless it is supported by controlled observation. Indeed, they 
sometimes show an almost pathological fear that those concerned 
with formal analysis may be deceived into supposing that nature is 
as coherently organized and as simple as are their intellectual con- 
structions. 

Nor does the familiar distinction between appearance and reality 
play any role in their thinking about nature, since the term “reality” 



Philosophy and the American Temper [ 55 1 

designates no inherently basic substance in the -world but at best 
only a humanly valuable phase of existence. Accordingly, every 
quality and event is a genuine occurrence in some complex process 
or context, and possesses ascertamable relations and functions in that 
context. There is, however, no one context which is relevant to the 
occurrence of everything, there is no absolutely privileged context. 
It is this emphasis upon the contextual conditions for the occurrence 
and for the manifested properties of everything whatsoever— upon 
the fact that a quality is an objective constituent of nature even 
though its existence depends on the relations in which it stands to 
other things— which explains the adjective in the label “contextual- 
istic naturalism.” 

It is inevitable that on these assumptions contextualistic naturalism 
should be vigorously anti-reductionist. Unlike earlier forms of 
naturalism, it maintains that the world contains at least as many 
qualitatively distinct features as are disclosed in human experience, 
and not a fewer number of them. The widespread view exemplified 
in such claims as that the playing of a Bach Chaconne is “nothing 
but” a scraping of horsehair across catgut, or that the human scene 
is “nothing but” an aggregation of certain allegedly “ultimate” ele- 
ments, is therefore rejected as resting upon patent confusions. 
Modem physics and modern biopsychology are taken seriously by 
contextualistic naturalists, and current theories concerning the elec- 
trical structure of matter and the biophysical basis of human action 
are assumed to be well-grounded in competent evidence. But they 
fail to see any merit in the argument according to which, simply 
because complex organizations of the elementary particles of modem 
physics constitute the conditions for the occurrence of familiar 
events and processes, the characteristic behaviors of such complex 
wholes are indistinguishably identical with the behaviors of their 
differently organized parts. 

It follows that the human scene is as much an integral part of 
nature, and as valid a subject for the philosopher's concern with 
basic features of existence, as is any of its other sectors. As contex- 
tualistic naturalism views them, man and his works are not inexpli- 
cable occurrences, incomparable in every respect with other natural 
processes. Men come into being and act the way they do only because 
of the operations of natural forces, and they perish or cease to 
behave as men when forces no less natural dismpt the normal or- 



[ 56 ] Sovereign Reason 

ganization of their bodies and of their fields of behavior. On the 
other hand, though the conditions of man’s life are thus contmuous 
with the rest of nature, his behavior exhibits features which are 
discontinuous with other parts of existence. For man is not simply 
another odd item in the inexhaustible catalogue of created things. He 
possesses the apparently unique gift of an inquiring mind, which 
enables him not only to act under the compulsion of internal springs 
of action and external pressures, but also to direct his impulses and 
to master many of the forces in his environment. 

This gift of intelligence man owes to the organization of his body 
and the character of his environment, and no supernatural agency 
or disembodied soul is required to explain it. It is this organization, 
complicated by the structure of his surroundings, which also ac- 
counts for men’s moral and evaluative behaviors. The possession 
of needs and preferences, and the exercise of reflection upon them 
in the interest of fulfilling and harmonizing them, are as natural to 
man as is, for example, the property of a magnet to repel or attract 
another magnet. In any event, it is in the radical plurality of men’s 
needs and in the limitations which their physical and social environ- 
ment impose upon their fulfillment, that contextualistic naturalism 
locates the source and urgency of moral problems. Accordingly, it 
does not conceive the primary moral problem to be that of discov- 
ering or actually instituting some fixed set of ethical norms valid 
everywhere and for all time. For basic moral problems are plural 
in number and specific in character, and are concerned with the 
adjustment, in the light of causes and consequences, of competing 
impulses occurring in specific environmental contexts. There can 
therefore be no general or final solution to the moral predicaments 
of mankind; the moral problem is the perennial one of finding ways 
and means for eliminating needless suflFering and for organizing in 
a reasonable manner the energies of men. 

The advocacy of a responsible intellectual method, especially in 
matters pertinent to social and ethical issues as well as in philosophy, 
is thus an emphatic strain in the writings of contextualistic natural- 
ists. For reliable knowledge is the end-product of a reflective proc- 
ess, involving the use of experimental controls over ideas which 
initially have the status of tentative hypotheses; and it is this pro- 
cedure which must be employed if reliable knowledge and reason- 
able evaluations are to be attained in the settlement of social and 



Philosophy and the American Te777per [ 57 ] 

moral conflicts. This method of science supplies no guarantees 
against error, it does not preclude alternative solutions to problems, 
and it certifies none of its conclusions as eternally valid. But since it 
is in essence a self-corrective method, and involves the continued 
criticism of its findings in the light of evidence capable of public 
inspection, it is a method which can discover its own errors. It is 
in any case the sole method which has historically shown itself able 
to yield intellectual and practical mastery over various segments of 
nature. From the systematic extension of the use of this method to 
the problems of men, contextualistic naturalists confidently antici- 
pate an increased moral enlightenment. 

Compared with many fashionable philosophies contextualistic 
naturalism is almost prosaically sober. It contributes to the current 
intellectual scene no apocalyptic visions, no thunderous absolutes, 
no unshakeable certainties. It offers no spectacular promises of sal- 
vation. It is essentially scientific and secular in temper, but confident 
that the concentration of scientific methods upon specific problems 
will yield a rich harvesf of genuine knowledge. It is sane and rea- 
sonable at a time when the tides of irrationalism run high in the 
world and when substitutes for the Appolonian virtues are at a 
premium. It expresses the convictions of a people confident that a 
bold but disciplined intelligence is still a creative power in the world. 



4 

Charles Peirce's 
Guesses at the Riddle 


With the publication of his Collected Papers^ by Harvard Uni- 
versity a measure of justice is being done to Charles Peirce, long 
neglected except by a select few students. Unfortunately, the hand- 
some volumes of this edition can not undo the damage which both 
Peirce and philosophy have suffered when he was not permitted, 
except for a brief period, to receive the intellectual and literary 
discipline which regular university teaching would have given him. 
His was an erratic temperament, as his writings amply testify. His 
conception of philosophy was architectonic, and he tried to write 
it in a grand manner; but most of the hitherto unpublished material 
which has appeared thus far is obscure, uneven in quality, and, 
in spite of the best efforts of his editors, unsystematic. As he 

I, Collected Papers of Charles Saunders Peirce, Edited by Charles Hart- 
shome and Paul Weiss. Cambridge; Harvard University Press. VoL I, 1931. 
Pp. xvi + 393* Vol. II, 1932. Pp. xii + 535- 

[58] 



Charles Peirce^s Guesses at the Riddle [ 59 ] 

himself remarked in 1903, “All that you can find in print of my 
work on logic are simply scattered outcroppings here and there 
of a rich vein which remains unpublished. Most of it I suppose has 
been written down; but no human being could ever put together the 
fragments. I could not myself do so.” It is not surprising, there- 
fore, that the writings in these first two volumes which are best 
from the point of view of clarity, consistency, and organization, are 
the articles published during his own hfetime. 

Until all the ten volumes will have been published it is impossible 
to evaluate adequately even the first two. Their contents will sug- 
gest, to anyone familiar with the literature of the last quarter- 
century, many of the central ideas of better-known writers. It is 
easy to find something of Husserl, Whitehead, Santayana, Wittgen- 
stein and* the logical positivists, Hilbert, Brouwer, and others, in the 
hints thrown out by Peirce, but left undeveloped. But whether 
these “anticipations” can legitimately be read out of Peirce, in- 
stead of read into him, only the later volumes will perhaps definitely 
decide. It is not impossible that he may become everything to all 
men, and that rationalists and empiricists, naturalists and idealists, 
realists and nominalists, may all read him for support as well as 
stimulation. Peirce was often his own audience,^ and he could af- 
ford to be voluminous, repetitious, sketchy, and obscurely subtle. 
But to others it is not always evident what value much of his analy- 
sis has for clarifying problems of philosophy or science. His readers 
get an impression of someone packing and preparing for an im- 
portant tour, but who somehow never crosses the gates of his own 
familiar city: we are shown the itinerary and given glowing prom- 
ises of what is in store for us, but alas! too frequently the manu- 
script breaks off just before the train is scheduled to leave. 

Not even a complete summary can be given, in brief compass, of 
the contents of these volumes. This review must confine itself to a 
statement of just three important themes, and the interested reader 
must be left to examine at fibrst hand many of the interesting varia- 
tions which Peirce embroiders upon them. 

2. He supplied one manuscript with the following heading: ‘Notes for a 
Book, to be entitled ‘A Guess at the Riddle,’ with a Vignette of the Sphynx 
below the Tide. And this book, if ever written, as it soon will be if I am 
in a situation to do it, will be one of the births of time.” 



[6o] 


Sovereign Reason 


I. 

The Peirce who is familiar to readers of his published writings 
is usually the mathematical logician and student of scientific method. 
But his scientific interests seem to have been subordinate to a far- 
flung metaphysics, and the substantial part of Volume I is devoted 
to an analysis and a speculative use of the categories. He desired 
to draw up a list of fundamental categories such that for a long 
future the intellectual achievements of man would appear simply 
as corroborative details, and one of his earliest pubhshed papers was 
already concerned with this task. Unfortunately, Peirce had a fond- 
ness for trichotomous divisions, and so he recognized just three 
fundamental categories: Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. But 
Secondness is analyzable into two species, the second of which is 
again divisible into two species, and so on; while Thirdness is 
analyzable into three kinds, the second of which is divisible into two 
varieties, and so on, and the third of which is divisible into three 
varieties, etc. His thought appears in a very artificial form indeed, 
although he had enough sense of humor to see how crack-brained his 
triadic scheme must appear to the general reader (1.364).® 

Peirce has not definitely stated what status he assigns to the cate- 
gories. But they are frequently proposed as the directly apprehended 
logical simples into which the complexity of whatever is presented 
may be analyzed. For his object is to establish a science of phanero- 
scopy (phenomenology) which would describe the total of what- 
ever is present to the mind in any way (phaneron), irrespective 
of the “realities” to which the phanerons correspond or of their 
physical and psychological conditions (1.287).“* Now the study of 
the phaneron, Peirce claims, shows it to contain three indecompos- 
able elements or aspects, which are the three categories. But he was 
careful to point out that these elements are not existentially sep-^ 
aratey and that their analysis consists only in tracing out the rela- 
tions between features isolated logically (1.294). The elements of 

3. The references are to volume and paragraph. 

4. This approach has many obvious afi^ations with the “pj^esuppositionless” 
studies of essences by Descartes, Husserl, and Santayana, although in the 
light of Peirce’s devastating critique of the Augustinian-Cartesian philosophy 
in his earliest papers, too much can not be made of this similarity. And after 
the nature of Thirdness has been discussed it will be seen how full of pre- 
suppositions Peirce’s aualysis really is. 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [ 6i ] 

the phaneron are indecomposable, because they show no differences 
in internal logical structure, although there are differences in the 
structure of their possible compounds (1.288, 1.291). The cate- 
gories seem to be, therefore, factors continually present in all expe- 
rience (1.134), and indissolubly intertwined with one another. We 
may distinguish the factors from one another, but we can not, even 
in imagination, dissociate them from one another or from other con- 
ceptions. We may indeed prescind or suppose some from the others 
in the same way as we prescind or suppose space from color (1*353); 
but we must never regard them as atoms out of which anything is 
constructed, since they are always only distinctions in everything 
presented (1.286). 

Although the categories primarily characterize the phaneron, 
Peirce also regards them as representing congenital tendencies of 
the mind, and admits that so far he agrees with Kant. But he makes 
a careful study of the facts in various fields in order to confirm the 
pervasiveness of three modes of being (1.374); for he regards the list 
of categories as “a table of conceptions drawn from the logical 
analysis of thought and regarded as applicable to being” (1.300). 
It is difficult to evaluate his performance, since the analogies he 
finds between features in different subject-matters are very tenuous, 
the argument is often post hoc, and he himself points out in one case 
at least that the categories he finds in one domain do not correspond 
precisely with those in another (1.452). He uses (and thereby 
abuses) propositions in the general theory of conics to illustrate 
fundamental metaphysical distinctions, and the outcome is very 
mystifying metaphysics indeed (1.362). Finally, it must be remem- 
bered that Peirce admits his triad of categories does not exhaust all 
the categories (1.525), so that there is reason to suppose that his 
predilection for trichotomies was nurtured by his studies in the 
logic of relations; although what the intimate connection is between 
these studies and his metaphysics Peirce leaves the reader to guess 
at random. 

Let us turn to the categories themselves. The Category of First- 
ness indicates the aspect of freshness, life, freedom, variety, and 
spontaneity in the phaneron. Thus it would seem that Firstness 
presents the phase of atomicity, specificity, or sheer quality in ex- 
perience. A quality is just what it is, and in its sheer immediacy 
is utterly disconnected with any other quality. On the other hand 



[62] Sovereign Reason 

Peirce regards Firstness as a “pure nature” or quality to which 
embodiment and localization are essentially foreign (1.303). A 
quality is eternal, independent of time or of any realization (1.420); 
it is simply a “may~be,” whose nature is that it might be a specific 
moment in a phaneron. Nevertheless Firstness is not a general or 
universal, since to be a universal involves reference to embodiment 
and localization (1.304). 

It IS not easy to reconcile these various characterizations of First- 
ness. Peirce seems to shuttle back and forth between regarding First- 
ness as the absolutely specific, immediate quality in the phaneron, 
as a determination which is not an “abstract suchness” (1.303, 1.306) 
on the one hand; and on the other hand, regarding Firstness as pure 
potentials, involving a variety and spontaneity which “is not defi- 
nitely there,” mere “may-bes” not necessarily realized (1.373). He 
thus alternates between conceiving Firstness as being simply a dis- 
tinction within the phaneron, and conceiving it as a disembodied but 
substantial essence. Firstness is at the same time a mere “possibil- 
ity” and the element of spontaneity; it is declared to lack generality, 
and also to be of the nature of a general, capable of further de- 
terminations (1.447). Peirce himself acknowledged that “possibil- 
ity” was a misnomer for firstness, since it mistakenly suggested a 
relation to what exists (1.531). But he adds a final touch to these 
confusions when he identifies Firstness or quality, not with immedi- 
ate, physically inefiicacious quality, nor with an abstract isolated 
possibility, but with the power bodies have of determining future 
manifestations of inefiicacious qualities (1.422). Firstness is then 
conceived as a dynamic relation, and so an element of law or regu- 
larity (Thirdness) is introduced into what started out to be the 
element of spontaneity. 

Further difiiculties arise when the connection of qualities with 
feelings is examined. A feeling for Peirce is an element of imme- 
diate consciousness, a quality of it which is not an event (1.306); 
and a quality in general is something which is vivid and conscious 
(1.357). There is thus a tendency to identify qualities with feel- 
ings, and so it is only a short step to impute feelings to whatever has 
qualities, for example, to inorganic matter. Indeed, “dead matter” 
can excite feelings in us, only because dead matter isn’t dead at all 
(1.311). Consequently, Peirce must be included among those who 
use with abandon an uncritically formulated principle of continuity. 



Charles Peirce's Guesses at the Riddle [ 63 ] 

Like can come only from the like, and so the qualities which humans 
enjoy are communicable and find their counterparts in non-human 
situations. “I am confident,” Pence declares, ‘‘that a bull and I feel 
much alike at the sight of a red rag” (1.3 14). Far be it from me 
to question this assertion, especially since what it means is most 
obscure. I do not see, however, how it and similar statements are 
reconcilable with Peirce’s logical pragmatism. He himself declared 
that in immediate experience there is no knowledge^ so that if First- 
ness indicates the element of spontaneity, every description must be 
false to it ( 1 . 357 ). I think this is true, because of that which 
is wholly immediate nothing whatsoever can be said, for the simple 
reason that the wholly immediate is not the subject-matter for any 
saying. 

We turn to the second category. Secondness indicates the ele- 
ment of brute fact, struggle, actuality. It points to fact, within 
which distinct elements stand in opposition to one another, for all 
existence is always a matter of blind force. Facts are determinate 
with respect to every character. They involve physical thmgs act- 
ing upon one another hie et nunc; these physical things are the sum 
of all the consequences of their so acting here and now. But Peirce 
points out that the individual mode of behavior indicated by Second- 
ness is not determined by any law (1.440); a stone falling here and 
now is not made to do so by any law of nature (1.323). Hence the 
proposition that every event is precisely determined must be aban- 
doned, since it is only approximately true (1.402). 

Secondness thus points to the element of contingency, of some- 
thing “accidently actual” in the phaneron (1.427). Peirce would 
have been sympathetic with recent attempts to revive causality as a 
distinct category not analyzable into uniform succession (1.325). 
For Secondness denotes a necessity which is natural, and also uncon- 
ditional, forceful, ultimate, a quality of operative events. At the 
same time, Secondness points to a radical indeterminism in the be- 
havior of nature, so that Peirce anticipated in general outline the 
statistical interpretation of natural laws. 

Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, Peirce’s discussion of 
Secondness is almost entirely in anthropomorphic language. We may 
cite as examples his characterization of fact as something which 
“fights its way into existence; for it exists by virtue of the opposi- 
tions which it involves” (1.432); and “the existence of facts consists 



[ 64 ] Sovereign Reason 

in fight” (1.435). This anthropomorphism Peirce often regards as a 
virtue, and once again a principle of continuity is employed to read 
strife, struggle, effort, which are features of human life, as generic 
traits of all nature. But where shall one draw the line— why not 
read desire, revulsion, love, into every nook and cranny of the world 
as well? Peirce, like many contemporary thinkers, did not hesitate 
at times to draw just such conclusions. Now the world may, in- 
deed, be populated with many more qualities than we ordinarily sup- 
pose. But why should we uncritically admit them, at the behest of 
a dubiously stated principle of continuity? Why should we over- 
look the fact that the qualities we experience are functions, in part 
at least, of the interaction of our own bodies with the rest of nature, 
and that they can not therefore be imputed to segments of the world 
where such interaction is not going on^^ 

An equally serious shortcoming is Peirce’s failure to analyze the 
meaning of contingency, and to state how he conceives an event to 
exhibit a contingent aspect and also to illustrate a uniformity. Is 
the contingency of an event an absolute* character of it, an im- 
mediate quality of a hie et nunc operation; is it a relational char- 
acter, so that an event has a contingent aspect with respect to one 
set of circumstances but not to another set; is it synonymous with 
the sheer plurality and variety of things; or is it all these things 
and something else besides^ This problem is especially important 
for Peirce, because as we shall see, uniformity is taken by him as a 
temporally derivative character of events. 

Let us examine the final category. The category of Thirdness 
introduces the element of determination by law. A law is the mode 
of being which consists in 'future facts (of Secondness) taking on 
determinate general characters (1.26); a law is how an endless 
future must continue to be (1.536). Thus, Thirdness involves the 
idea of something general, which can not ever be completely ac- 
tualized and so refers to an indefinite future. Thirdness or law, 
according to Peirce, is akin to thought; it can be produced and 
grow, it can be communicated and is general. It addresses itself 
to two realms: as general, it concerns itself with the realm of possi- 
bility or quality; as factual, it refers to the actual world (1.420). 
Since Thirdness is involved in all communication, the correct analy- 
sis of the category leads inevitably to the study of the nature of 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [ 65 ] 

signs. But we will examine this aspect of the matter in the next 
section. 

At this point, let us see the use Peirce makes of his categories in 
his cosmogonical speculations. According to him, every sound meta- 
physics must be evolutionary. This dictum is based largely on the 
further dictum that what needs to be explained is not the variety, 
freshness, and unpredictability of things, but the uniformities which 
they exhibit. Uniformity must be “explained” by showing how, 
out of a primal spontaneity, together with a tendency in the flux 
to take on habits, laws or habits have evolved (1.175). In a sense, 
therefore, Thirdness is not as “ultimate” a category as Firstness, 
since regularity grows out of pure chance or Firstness (1.407). In 
the infinitely distant past there was no law, only chaos together 
with a tendency toward uniformity or the elimination of inde- 
terminacy (1.409). Hence the three active elements in the universe 
are chance, law, and the tendency for things to take on habits 

Is it possible to make a coherent scheme out of all this? In the 
first place, let us recall shat the categories should be regarded as 
distinctions within the phaneron, not as active elements out of which 
whatever exists is to be constructed. However, if we also recall 
that phaneroscopy has nothing to do with the question of how far 
the phaneron corresponds to any reality, what meaning shall we 
assign to Secondness and Thirdness which specifically involve ref- 
erence to the actual world? Can anyone, least of all Peirce, main- 
tain that the nature of law is to be learned independently of the 
operations of “real” beings and of the use of the discursive methods 
of the sciences? Indeed, if there is nothing in immediate conscious- 
ness except feeling or quality (1.3 17), how can the phaneron ex- 
hibit elements of Secondness and Thirdness? Peirce himself declares 
that law unrealized is merely a pure first, a quality possessed, and 
is not a “genuine” law. 

Secondly, is the idea of law as something active anything other 
than Plotinian and Schellingian poetry^ It is true that Peirce calls 
Thirdness a law only when we contemplate it from the outside, 
while if “we see both sides” it shows itself to be akin to thought 
(1,420). But change of terminology does not always solve a diffi- 
culty, and Peirce does not show how the radical indeterminacy of 
fact is compatible with the activity of thought or law in determining 
what future facts are to be. 



[ 66 ] Sovereign Reason 

Thirdly, what is to be said for the dictum that uniformities, and 
only uniformities, require explanation^ Is it not patent that we 
sometimes seek to explain a regularity and at other times the lack 
of regularity^ For what, anyway, is an explanation^ Is it not the 
case that we “explain” an event or law when we exhibit it as an 
element in a more comprehensive order or uniformity? Thus we 
explain why a glass breaks when hot water is poured into it, by 
showing that types of relations, like the flow of heat, the elasticity 
of a substance, and the unequal expansion of a substance, are ex- 
hibited in the explicandum. These types, if they are to explain, 
must be pervasive modes of behavior, must be what are called 
“regularities ” Peirce himself is compelled to take note of them. 
He can not possibly get order and connection by simply taking 
them as growths from a primal chaos; he must take for granted some 
form of order, e.g., a tendency in things to take on and conserve 
habits. For the hypothetical chaos is completely unintelligible, and 
can not be the explanation of anything. One may explain a specific 
law by showing it to be the consequence<rof a more inclusive order. 
But one can not explain order as such, since it is the principle of 
explanation of everything else. What order we take as primary in 
any inquiry depends upon the state of our knowledge and the de- 
mands of the problem; some order we must assume, just as some 
plurality must be taken for granted if anything is to be explained, 
Peirce was motivated in his cosmogony by a bias toward a spiritual- 
istic interpretation of the cosmos, and by an understandable reaction 
to philosophies of his day which attempted to derive the variety of 
things from a primal homogeneity. The moral is that it is Just as 
much a mistake to deny an ultimate specificity and variety, as it is 
to deny an inexpugnable order. It is instructive to compare Peirce 
with Spinoza. Both recognized nature to possess a structure and 
also to contain an inexhaustible variety. Peirce chose to emphasize 
the latter and to regard the former as derivative. But I think Spinoza 
was both sounder and wiser when he included in Part I of the 
Ethics Prop. 15 as well as Prop. 28.® 


5. Prop. XV. “Whatever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, 
or be conceived ” 

Prop. XXyill. “Every individual thing, or everything which is finite and 
has a conditioned existence, cannot exist or be conditioned to act, unless it 



Charles Peirce^s Guesses at the Riddle [ 67 ] 

Finally, one must seriously question Peirce’s facile reduction of 
laws of nature to “habits.” No doubt there is an analogy, often a 
fruitful one, and no suggestive hypothesis should be neglected. But 
do we know the nature of human habits so well that we can pretend 
to throw light on the nature of laws by using the former to explain 
the latter? What real evidence is there for Peirce’s assumption 
that natural laws are like habits which human beings take on and 
occasionally drop^ It is true that almost all our scientific terms, 
even the most neutral ones, are infected with meanings carried over 
from the specifically human scene. But this should not be taken 
as a license to exercise one’s speculative fancy and so regard proc- 
esses in all parts of nature as simply human processes writ large. 
The issue is not between affirming immutable laws of nature and 
affirming the contrary. The flux is what it is, and why should a 
naturahst on a priori grounds deny anything of it^ But whatever 
the flux is, the issue is to examine any allegation concerning it with 
scrupulous care, in philosophy as well as in science. And if it is 
alleged that laws grow and change, while at the same time laws are 
not identified with any segment of the flux, especial care should be 
taken to determine the sense in which laws “change,” in view of the 
fact that change is taken as a fundamental character of the flux 
itself. 

2. 

Although the triad of categories is a persistant melody running 
through most of Peirce’s writings, many of his doctrines can be 
understood better in connection with his theory of signs. The 
magnificent series of papers in the Journal of Speculative Philoso- 
phy y in which he broke with the Cartesian tradition dominating 
modern philosophy, was inspired by his recognition of the function 
of signs in thought. Like Aristotle, Peirce was impressed by the 
fact that language is the medium in which the rationality of the 
world becomes expressed and communicated; and he went so far as 
to say that “the woof and warp of all thought and all research is 

be conditioned for existence and action by a cause other than itself, which 
is also finite, and has a conditioned existence; and hkewise this cause cannot 
in its turn exist, or be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned for existence 
and action by another cause, which also is finite, and has a conditioned 
existence, and so on to infinity.” Spinoza’s Ethics, Part I, Elwes translation. 




[ 68 ] Sovereign Reaso 7 i 

symbols, and the life of thought and science is the life inherent in 
symbols” (2.220), “My language,” he declared, “is the sum total 
of myself, for the man is the thought. The identity of man consists 
m the consistency of what he does and thinks, and consistency is the 
intellectual character of a thing, i.e., is its expressing something.” 
Representation or the operation of signs (mediation or Thirdness) is 
therefore one of the fundamental categories, and to its study Peirce 
devoted his best energies. 

Peirce’s ideas on signs are the most difficult and obscure of all 
he set down on paper. Only a meager outline is here attempted. 
Anything whatsoever (e.g., physical object, image, quality, thought) 
may be a sign, so that signs differ from one another in several im- 
portant ways. But in any case, every sign involves a triadic rela- 
tion. For in every case where a sign functions, there is first, the 
sign with its own material quality; secondly, there is the object of 
which it is a sign, and which it represents in some respect (the 
ground ) ; and thirdly, there is the thought to which it is addressed, 
the interpretant to which it is a sign. In Volume II Peirce dis- 
cusses each one of these three aspects of the sign, each aspect yield- 
ing three divisions.® 

And first, when we attend to the material quality of signs, we 
find three types: a sign may be a pure quality or possibility, some- 
thing which as a pure quality is disembodied, even though it can not 
actually function as a sign until embodied (a qmlisign); or it may 
be an actual existent, a physical thing or event (a sinsign); or 
finally, it may be a general law, rule, or habit (a legisign). Every 
sinsign clearly must involve qualisigns, while every legisign func- 
tions through sinsigns which are instances or “replicas” of it. 
Thus, in one sense, each time “three” occurs on a page there is a 
distinct word, each being a sinsign; but in another sense, these 
distinct sinsigns stand for the very same word (legisign), which is 
a general rule or convention for the production of sinsigns. All 
conventional marks are signs not because they can be seen or 
touched, but because they are replicas of a type which signifies 
through its instances (2.244). 

Secondly, when the sign is studied with respect to the relation 
between it and its object, the following three types are found: a 

6. In a later volume he will distinguish ten trichotomous divisions, giving 
sixty-six independent classes of signs. 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [ 69 ] 

sign IS an icon when it refers to an object because of its own in- 
trinsic features, which nevertheless it possesses in common with its 
object (e.g., a diagram or picture); it is an mdex when it is really 
(dynamically) affected by its object (e.g., a street cry, the rolling 
gait of a man as a sign of his being a sailor, or a weather-cock); 
it is a symbol^ when it operates to be interpreted by virtue of a law 
or association of general ideas (e.g., a proposition, all conventional 
signs). Peirce regarded this as the most important division of signs. 
The only way we have of communicating and thinking, according 
to him, is by means of direct or indirect use of icons (2.278). But 
icons generally function as constituents of indices, which in turn 
are constituents of symbols, and symbols, being general, involve 
laws referring to the indefinite future, and so require legisigns and 
sinsigns to function (2.293). 

Thirdly, when the sign is examined with respect to what its in- 
terpretant understands it to represent, the following three types are 
found: when the sign is taken as representing a kind of possible 
object or quality, when in represents an object merely with respect 
to its characters, it is a rheme (in modem terminology, a proposi- 
tional function); when it is taken as a sign of actual existence, when 
it represents its objects with respect to the actual existence of the 
object, it is a dicisign; when it is taken as a sign of law or regular- 
ity, it is an argument (2.252), 

If we combine these three sets of distinctions in all possible ways, 
we get twenty-seven (i.e., 3^) classes of signs, only ten of which are 
independent. Peirce discusses them with great subtlety. We can 
not report his analyses, but turn instead to some of the applications 
he makes of his studies on the role of signs in discursive reasoning. 

(a) The nature of meaning. It is not intended to add here an- 
other specimen to the sixteen meanings of ^‘meaning” captured by 
Ogden and Richards. I only wish to point out that most analyses 
of meaning have gone off the track because they identify meaning 
with some essense, image, or thought, instead of studying the struc- 
ture of the situations in which meanings occur. Peirce^s discussion 
of signs should make us aware that “meaning” is a triadic relation 
involving a sign, its object, and its interpreter, so that an exclusive 
concentration upon one of these terms must of necessity yield an 
inadequate analysis of the nature of meaning. It may be thought 
that the specific introduction of the interpreter as a factor in the 



[ 70 ] Sovereign Reason 

analysis of meaning, involves the introduction of irrelevant psy- 
chology which will only becloud a very beclouded problem. But 
quite the contrary is the case. For this analysis isolates the differ- 
ent factors in a meaning situation, allows us to explore the general 
conditions under which signs may adequately represent their ob- 
jects irrespective of any specific interpreter, and then emphasizes 
the ineradicable role of the interpreter. Thus we can discover that 
a sign must be a “logical map” or icon of its object if it is to 
represent it adequately; and we can also consider the social factors 
which enter into the activities of the interpreter which determine 
how he interprets signs, without however altering the validity of 
the first analysis. Meanings are not qualities or essences, they are 
the structure of certain situations in which such triadic relations 
are exhibited. 

Consider, furthermore, the problem as to the nature of proposi- 
tions. A proposition is sometimes identified with judgment, under- 
stood as a psychological act, sometimes with a fact or state of 
affairs; sometimes with a substantial, non^temporal, non-spatial en- 
tity or essense; sometimes with a sentence in all its particularity. 
Pence, on the other hand, is able to avoid both the hypostasis and 
the psychologizing of propositions by analyzing them as dicent sym- 
bols which are legtsigns. Hence a proposition is a sign, and requires 
a three-fold reference: it is a sign which is connected with its object 
by an association of general ideas; it is dynamically connected with 
its object if it is true, and is interpreted as representing a situation 
located in the realm investigated; and it also has a determinate ma- 
terial quality, determined by a general rule or convention, so that 
^^cogito^^ and “I think” stand for the same proposition. 

It is also relevant to mention in this connection that most of the 
recent work in symbolic logic has devoted exclusive attention to 
the iconic feature of signs, and has neglected their very important 
indexicalj symbolical^ and argumentative aspects. The dissatisfac- 
tion which many philosophers have felt with symbolic logic may 
perhaps be explained on this ground. And it is not too much to say 
that an adequate philosophy of logic will not be achieved until the 
neglected features of signs receive a complete study. 

(b). The doctrine of fallibilism^ Every sign addresses itself to 
some thought or interpreter, and this in turn, according to Peirce, 
is a sign, which must address itself to another thought, and so on 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [71] 

without limit. This indicates the nature of all discursive thought, 
and it is largely for this reason that he denied knowledge to be im- 
mediate apprehension. All cognition requires mediation, interpreta- 
tion, and reference to an indefinite future. There can be no absolute 
finality or complete certitude, since the process of interpretation is 
an unlimited one. The method of science is self-corrective. We 
can not doubt all things at once; but without being dogmatic or 
sceptical, we can construct hypotheses, submit them to empirical 
tests, reconsider the hypotheses and tests in terms of other hypotheses 
and observations, and so on endlessly. Thus while the sciences aim 
at exactitude, universality, and complete certitude, these are ideal 
limits which can never reach, and which it is suicidal for them to 
claim to have reached. All our knowledge, in the natural sciences 
as well as in mathematics, is fallible. 

The import of this doctrine will be clearer if we bear in mind 
that the complete certitude Peirce denies we can attain, is not a 
psychological state of strong conviction, but is a complete logical 
ground for the propositions we assert. The following considerations 
will bear this out. 

(1) Peirce makes clear that it is the fallibility of discursive 
thought which he is asserting, and that he is not denying the im- 
mediacy of direct experience. Kant’s sharp distinction between 
observation and reflection he believes is mistaken, because all sig- 
nificant observation involves interpretation, so that reasoning does 
not begin after observation is over (1.35). The consequences of 
this criticism, as everyone knows, are momentous for the theory of 
science. And he has a crushing retort to those who claim absolute 
certainty for the objects of direct experience: ‘‘Direct experience 
is neither certain nor uncertain, because it alErms nothing— it just 
is, ... It involves no error, because it testifies to nothing but its own 
appearance. For the same reason, it affords no certainty” (1.145). 

(2) The claim to infallibility is only a hindrance to inquiry, since 
what we want to know concerning any proposition is whether it is 
well supported by evidence. The claim to finality, however, con- 
fuses the question of the logical value of the evidence with the ques- 
tion as to the psychological certitude we may possess. Accordingly, 
since the first rule of reason is “Do not block the way of inquiry” 
( 1. 1 35), we may dismiss as obstacles the claims that we have absolute 
certitude, that there is something we can never know, that some- 



[ji] Sovereign Reason 

thing or other is basic or absolutely simple, and that some law or 
other has received its perfect formulation. 

{3) It is a very crude analysis which declares that things are 
sharply cut off from one another, like the traditional pictures of 
atoms as billiard balls. The contrary is the case, according to Peirce, 
for '‘all thmgs swim in continua.” Our concepts, too, shade off into 
penumbral regions of indeterminacy, so that our knowledge “swims 
in a continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy” (1.171). Hence 
the “laws of nature” must be interpreted as describing the approxi- 
mate behavior of large groups, and do not describe without serious 
qualifications the behavior of their individual members (i 156). 

(4) A pragmatic theory of meaning involves an implicit refer- 
ence to the future in every judgment about matters of fact. To call 
a piece of stone hard^ is to predict how it will behave and what 
effects it will have in the future (1.615). Hence every present judg- 
ment is subject to correction, since it involves an endless series of 
verifications. Science is therefore not so much of a body of estab- 
lished truth, as a diligent search or proem of inquiry into truth 
(i-44)- 

Against the doctrine of fallibilism many thinkers will no doubt 
raise the objection that we can not be said to “know,” unless what 
we know is in fact the case. Anyone claiming to “know” that the 
earth is flat, it will be said, claims what is false, for we could know 
that proposition to be true only if the earth were indeed flat. Hence, 
if there is such a thing as knowledge, it must be absolutely certain; 
on Peirce’s view, however, it will be urged, we may have opinion 
and belief, but never authentic knowledge, since knowledge is not 
subject to revision. To this objection there is only one reply. 
Knowledge so defined that when we have it we can not possibly be 
in error, is the ideal goal to which we strive; but it is Peirce’s claim 
that we have not yet anything to illustrate such a knowledge beyond 
every possible doubt. It may well be that certain propositions claimed 
as knowledge will never be significantly challenged. The indubility 
that attaches to such propositions comes, however, not from any 
analysis of the nature of knowledge nor from a psychological sense 
of certitude, but from the fact that they are supported by logically 
overwhelming evidence. Nevertheless, in all dscursive thinking 
there is always the possibility that we are mistaken in what we allege 
to know. There are therefore no ultimate first principles intuitively 



Charles Peirce's Guesses at the Riddle [ 73 ] 

reached which are the bed-rock of all certitude. There is only science 
as a self-corrective process, steering midway between a stultifying 
scepticism and an unimaginative dogmatism. 

(c) Logic and mathematics. But what does Peirce do with logic 
and mathematics, it will be asked. Can he successfully extend the 
principle of fallibilism to apply to them? The attempt to do so is 
indeed one of the most interesting features of Peirce’s writings on 
logic; and it merits careful study because he was bitterly hostile 
to the psychologizing logicians of his day. 

Logic in its broadest sense is understood by him to be general 
semeiotic, or the science of what must be and ought to be the nature 
of true representations or signs (1.444, 1.539). Logic is thus inex- 
tricably related to language. Corresponding to the three-fold nature 
of signs, it has three departments: critical logic, the theory of the 
conditions for the truth of signs; speculative grammar, the theory 
of the nature of signs in all their aspects; and speculative rhetoric, 
or the theory of the conditions of reference of signs to their inter- 
pretants (2.93). The content of speculative grammar has already 
been indicated; and apparently Peirce wrote nothing systematically 
on speculative rhetoric, in spite of his belief that general methods 
could be stated for attacking the solution of problems (2.108). There 
remains to indicate something concerning the nature of critical 
logic. 

The task of critical logic is the classification of arguments with 
respect to the form of their constituent propositions and the fre- 
quency with which true premises of a determinate type yield true 
conclusions. Each argument requires a habit of reference, which 
when formulated is the leading principle or canon of that type of 
argument. These habits are general since they refer to an indefinite 
future, and in a determinate class of arguments commit us to few 
or no false conclusions (2.148, 2.446). Some leading principles are 
perfectly general or formal: they are involved in every set of prem- 
isses, and are the logical principles par excellence; others have a 
more restricted generality, and are material principles (2.466, 2.589). 

The consequences of taking leading principles or generalized 
habits as the basis for valid inference are many. It enables Peirce to 
supply an objective, matter-of-fact foundation for all inference, and 
so indicate the relevance of material considerations in formal logic. 
The naturalistic strain in him shows itself at its best in his discus- 



[ 74 ] Sovereign Reason 

sions of the metaphysical grounds of logical canons of inference 
(2.710 ff). It also enables him to treat in a unified manner both nec- 
essary and probable reasonmg, since the former is a hniitmg case of 
the latter when the leading principles employed have relative truth- 
frequencies whose values are always unity (2.696). It permits him 
to do justice to the purely mechanical element in inference, and 
admit that logical machines perform inferences even though they 
do not think (2 59). And it permits him to avoid a crude empiri- 
cism with respect to logic, by associating the canons of deductive 
or explicative inference with the analysis of stgnsy so that he can 
retain his naturalism and still admit that the experiential element m 
logic is all but ml (2.65). 

Nevertheless, not everything that Peirce says about inference is 
crystal clear or consistent. There remains an unbridgeable gap 
between probable and necessary reasoning which he reluctantly ad- 
mits when he asserts that a class of arguments whose relative truth- 
frequency is unity, does not therefore belong to the class of neces- 
sary inferences (2.369). And when he asserts that the process of 
substitution, so vital in formal reasoning, is non-inferential, simply 
because the propositional forms employed have no specific meaning 
or reference, he exhibits serious limitations in his understanding of 
the distinctive marks of inference (2.496). 

Let us turn, however, to his analysis of deductive reasoning and 
to the incidence of the doctrine of fallibilism upon it. We can best 
do this in connection with his discussion of mathematical reasoning. 
Peirce was profoundly influenced by F. A. Lange’s Logische Studien 
and always maintained that both logic and mathematics were “ob- 
servational sciences.” This apergu depends on recognizing that all 
reasoning is by means of and upon signs. In mathematics, for ex- 
ample, we construct a diagram (i.e., any complex sign) according to 
a general rule; we observe relations between parts of the diagram 
not stated explicitly by the rule; we show that the diagram is a fair 
sample of all the diagrams determined by the rule, so that these rela- 
tions hold always (or at least in a certain proportion of cases) for 
any such diagram; and finally we state these relations in general 
terms as the necessary (or probable) conclusion of the investigation^ 

7. In this emphasis upon the role of diagrams Peirce anticipated much of 
the mathernaocal philosophy of Hilbert, although his motivation is clearly 
different. Like Hilbert, he denies that mathematics ever requires the aid of 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [75] 

(1.54, 1.66). In the sense, therefore, that explicative reasoning is 
diagrammatic, it requires observation, since we must construct dia- 
grams, at least in imagination, and observe them (1.240); and k 
will be seen that the discussion does not depend on the status of the 
controversy between opponents and defenders of “imageless think- 
ing.” Hence, mathematics is no more infallible than other positive 
sciences of observation, and every mathematical inference is accord- 
ingly a matter of probability (1.248, 2.192) even though it may be 
beyond every reasonable doubt. 

Whatever else may be said of this extension of the principle of 
fallibilism to mathematics, Peirce has rendered a service in pointing 
out how logically insecure are all claims for the self-evidence of 
mathematical propositions. The history of logic and mathematics 
amply bears out the substance of Peirce’s warnings against an arro- 
gant infaUibilism; it shows that here as elsewhere, general principles 
are but slowly apprehended, require to be carefully tested out, and 
the limits of their application are never completely free from doubt. 
Nevertheless, there is a good deal of confusion in his contention 
that mathematical reasoning is “probable.” His illustrations indicate 
that he means by that characterization simply that we, and thou- 
sands of others, may have blundered in adding a column of figures 
or in deducing the consequences of a set of premisses. But there is 
an important difference between the assertion that “7 4“ 5 = i 
is only probable because we may have erred, and the assertion that 
“all men are mortal” is probable because the evidence from bio- 
chemistry and physiology is incomplete and because there is a 
reference to a contingent future. In the first case we are dealing 
with the connection of relations having the utmost generality pos- 
sible and not subject to change; in the second, the subject-matter is 
a segment of an incompletely determined flux. And Peirce himself, 
as we shall see, stood out firmly against confusing probability with 
ignorance, 

Peirce’s views as to the nature of mathematics are amazingly up 
to date. He saw clearly that pure mathematics is a hypothetico- 
deductive science, that it does not make categorical assertions about 
what exists (1.53), and that all a priori arguments about matters of 

logic (1.247, 2.191), although this dictum seems to depend upon his taking 
“logic” in tliis context to be a science of factj and not the formal science of 
the consequences of hypotheses. 



[ ] Sovereign Reason 

fact are just rubbish (2.137). he did not always see the impli- 
cations of these insights. Thus he thinks that ^‘two straight lines 
can have only one intersection” is an evident proposition (1.130), 
and that the postulates of geometry are only approximately true 
(1.131). He can not therefore be regarded as having anticipated 
Poincare and Duhem in their profound studies on the connection 
between applied mathematics and physics. 

(d) Nominalism. It is clear from what precedes that Peirce could 
not agree with those for whom the only mode of being is that of 
individual objects which crowd out a place for themselves by sheer 
force. Such a view he characterized as nominalism, and he called 
himself a realist because he recognized <the mode of being of law 
or Thirdness. 

Peirce takes great pains to make clear that by a law or universal 
he did not mean a “thing” or a “particular ” When a man believes 
that the property hardness is not invented by men as the word 
“hard” is, he says, “but is really and truly in the hard things and 
is one in them all, as a description of habit; disposition, or behavior, 
then he is a realist” (i.27n). The mode of being of a law consists in 
the fact that future acts will take on a determinate general char- 
acter. Whatever is general, is something which is the object^ not the 
creature of thought. And it can not be identified with any finite 
set of particulars, since “its being is in the instances which it will 
determine” (2.249). 

Peirce’s realism is thus of the “moderate” kind. Universals or 
laws are not capable of localization in space and time, nor are they 
something added to the particulars so localized. They are the modes 
of behavior, and the relations between modes of behavior, of things 
in space and time. In spite of his flirting with the idea of “pure pos- 
sibilities,” in spite of his saying that a typical mathematician must be 
a Platonist for whom the universe of “actual” existence is but an 
arbitrary locus in the eternal, the substance of his reflections on uni- 
versals is to tie them indissolubly to the flux of things. The supposi- 
tion of universals with no reference to the flux is as meaningless as 
the supposition of a flux which does not embody universals (2.330). 

But there is no doubt Peirce was not always faithful to his best 
insights into this matter. Most puzzling is his philandering with 
the idea of final causes, so that he sometimes thinks of laws and 
ideas as operative and efficient. Thus, he declares that when an idea 



Charles Feirce's Guesses at the Riddle [ 77 ] 

is communicated “it had caused something to happen in your brain” 
(1.2 1 3); that while heredity is a law and not a force, it “like other 
laws doubtless avails itself of forces” (1.2 15); and that “every gen- 
eral idea has more or less power of working itself out into facts” 
(2.149). These expressions may be simply metaphors. It is, however, 
a metaphor which strangely persists in much of the discussion of 
Thirdness, and must make Peirce’s readers question the integrity of 
his realism. For to endow laws with efficacy is to particularize them 
into things, and is an invitation to the nominalist to ask his unan- 
swerable “When> Where^” Nor is the reader’s doubt allayed when 
Peirce permits himself to say that the number system is our own 
creation, and that mathematical reasoning holds simply because it 
deals only with the creations of the mind (1.149, 2.192). It is a 
high price, even for fallibilism, to explain the unusual logical cer- 
tainty of mathematics by regarding its subject-matter to be nothing 
more than an entertaining convention. 

, 3 - 

Peirce was justly proud of his having been brought up in the 
laboratory and of so having acquired the experimental frame of mind 
when still young. And indeed his best developed writings are the 
contributions to the theory of deduction and to the analysis of prob- 
able reasoning. 

The substance of his discussions of scientific method centers 
around his perception that science is more sure of the correctness of 
the general procedures it employs than it is of any specific result 
achieved by them. Those procedures involve the specific application 
of a self-corrective hypothetico-deductive method, and Peirce was 
convinced of the universal applicability of that method. He was 
eager to defend it against all comers, like a knight his fair lady whom 
he has chosen from all the world. He could, therefore, consistently 
attack the positivists for their doctrine that all hypotheses must be 
capable of direct verification (2.5nn), and also declare that the full 
meaning of a proposition is to be found in what it prescribes us to 
do to gain perceptual experience (2.330). Even without waiting for 
his complete writings on pragmatism, which will appear in later 
volumes, it is possible to form a fair estimate of the studies on 
scientific method contained in these volumes. 

Peirce made much of the distinction between explicative and 



[ 78 ] Sovereign Reason 

ampliative reasoning. Explicative reasoning is either necessary or 
probable^ ampliative reasoning either inductive or presumptive. We 
have already considered the main features of the first, and shall 
return below to a more careful analysis of probable inferences. What 
is ampliative reasoning? In general, says Peirce, it is such that “the 
facts summed up in the conclusion are not among those stated in the 
premisses. They are different facts, as when one sees that the tide 
rises m times and concludes that it will rise the next time. These are 
the only inferences which increase our real knowledge, however 
useful the others may be” (2.680). But let us see what its species are. 

Induction consists in inferring the constitution of a class from 
the constitution of samples drawn from it. We determine by induc- 
tion the nature of a cargo of wheat through judicious sampling; 
this process determines for us, by empirical means, the ratio with 
which certain characters occur. Presumptive reasonings on the other 
hand (also called abduction, retroduction, hypothesis), consists in 
inferring an explanation, cause, or hypothesis from some fact which 
can be taken as a consequence of the hypothesis. Presumptive rea- 
soning is therefore the provisional adoption of a hypothesis, because 
every possible consequence of it is capable of verification, so that 
by pursuing this method its disagreements with facts will be re- 
vealed (1.68). The difference between induction and presumption 
is that the former infers the existence of phenomena homogeneous 
to those already observed, while in the latter something hetero- 
geneous to that already observed is concluded, even something im- 
possible for us to observe directly (2.640). 

Now Peirce believes that these forms of inference are different 
from explicative probable reasoning, which he also calls statistical 
deduction. For the latter is probable, as we shall see more fully 
below, in the sense that though in a particular case its conclusion is 
false, yet in the long run and with a definite ratio, similar conclu- 
sions would be approximately true. But induction, for example, is 
probable only in the sense that though it may give a false conclu- 
sion, yet in the long run where the process is used, a different but 
approximately true conclusion would be drawn (2. 703). Thus, in 
probable reasoning the predicted conclusion is verified in the long 
run in a definite ratio of all the cases; in ampliative reasoning, the 
predicted conclusion will be changed in a good proportion of the 
cases, but will become approximately correct in the long run (2.709). 



Charles Peirce^ s Guesses at the Riddle [ 79 ] 

But it can be shown that the distinction between statistical deduc- 
tion and the species of ampliative reasoning is only a psychological 
one, and refers simply to the various degrees of completeness our 
knowledge may possess. The distinction does not touch the logical 
question as to the validity of these forms of inference. For consider: 
If we reason at all, we must reason from premisses, and if we reason 
validly we do so because the conclusion is obtained in accordance 
with the leading principle or canon of the argument. When Perrce 
asks how it is possible that a man can observe one fact and then pro- 
nounce judgment concerning another fact not involved in the first, 
and when he then adds that such reasoning has no definite probabil- 
ity (2.690), he is surely inconsistent with his own analysis If the 
inference is made in virtue of some leading prmciple, it does have 
some degree of probability, namely, the relative truth-frequency 
associated with that principle. If the “inference” does not involve a 
leading principle, no reasoning takes place in any usual sense of the 
word. Thus, I sample a bag of beans and find half the sample is 
white. If I knovo nothing concerning the representative nature of 
the sample, I can conclude nothing about the color of the beans in 
the bag, although I may make a guess, consider my guess a hypothe- 
sis, and then proceed to test the hypothesis in the usual way. But if 
I do know that samples drawn in the way I drew this one are 
representative of the beans in the bag, I can conclude something 
about the constitution of the bag by statistical deduction; and the 
argument is probable in the sense to be defined presently. Ampliative 
inference is thus the experimental process by which we determine 
approximately the numerical values of the relative truth-frequencies 
involved. But as Peirce himself admits, its species are inverse forms 
of deductive probable inference, and their validity (the only rele- 
vant question in logic) is the validity of statistical deductions (2.511, 
2.718). 

We need discuss therefore only the theory of deductive probabil- 
ity, which Peirce adopted from Venn and developed in an original 
way.® The following are its essential features: (i) Probable infer- 
ence, like all inference, depends for its validity upon determinate 

8. A rigorously systematic discussion of the theory was never given by 
Peirce. It has been left for German students (Von Mises, Reichenbach, 
Tomier) to discover independently the fundamental prinaples of the truth- 
frequency theory. 



[ 3o ] Sovereign Reason 

relations between propositions. (2) No proposition is probable in- 
trinsically, but only with respect to other propositions which are 
evidence for it. Probability is thus a relation between propositions. 

(3) Whether a proposition has or has not a degree of probability 
on definite evidence, does not depend on the state of mind of the 
person entertaining the proposition. Psychology is as little (or as 
much) relevant in probable inference as it is in necessary inference. 

(4) An inference is probable in so far as it belongs to a class of in- 
ferences in which the frequency of the conclusions being true is a 
determinate ratio of the frequency of the premisses being true. Prob- 
ability is the limiting value of the fraction whose numerator is the 
number of times both antecedent and consequent are true and whose 
denominator is the number of times the antecedent is true, as the 
number increases vmthout limit. Hence probability is not, as on 
Keynes’ view, an unanalyzable concept. (5) The same proposition 
may have different degrees of probability in accordance with the 
sort of evidence which is marshalled in its support. But the rele- 
vance of the evidence can not be determined on formal grounds 
alone. 

It is clear that since probability is the limit of an endless series, 
we can never assert categorically the value of a probability. Hence 
the assertion that such and such is the probability of a proposition 
is always a hypothesis^ always subject to correction And hence, also, 
the sole business of the experimental sciences, since we can not ex- 
haustively study all of nature, is to carry on sampling operations 
which will indicate approximately the values of different proba- 
bilities. 

The question remains, therefore, under what conditions the proc- 
ess of sampling will lead us to an approximately true knowledge of 
the constitution of a field. Peirce prepares his reader by first re- 
jecting in toto all theories of probability which are based upon the 
principle of equal distribution of ignorance; second (this is a corol- 
lary from the first) rejecting the use of inverse probabilities; and 
third, denying that the validity of sampling depends on any mate- 
rial assumptions such as the uniformity of nature (2.102, 2.749). 
According to him, sampling is a valid process whatever be the con- 
stitution of the universe, since its validity follows from the manner 
in which the sampling is conducted. And the following are the 
conditions under which sampling is a reliable process; first, the sub- 



Charles Peirce^s Guesses at the Riddle [ 8i ] 

ject-matter must have a determinate nature; second, the sampling 
should be carried out without bias, the samples must be “fair”; and 
third, the characters whose distribution is investigated must be pre- 
designated or predicted prior to drawing a sample, if that sample is 
to serve as evidence for any hypothesis concerning the constitution 
of the field. And Peirce concludes that while in any given case the 
process may lead to false results, it will, if pursued far enough, ap- 
proximate more and more closely to the truth. 

Now it is true that the method of sampling Peirce discusses is, 
in general outlines, the one pursued in the sciences. But isn’t Peirce 
claiming more for the method than is warranted^ Thus, the asser- 
tion that if samples are drawn “fairly,” i.e , without bias, they will 
ultimately yield a “fair,” i.e., representative, sample of the consti- 
tution of a field, is either a bald tautology, or is a Tnaterkl assump- 
tion to the effect that the specific mode of sampling is carried on in 
such a way that every variation in the field will turn up in our 
samples at some time or other. But if the amount of independent 
variety in the field should be indefinitely large (or even too large to 
handle with the methods at our disposal) we may never obtain 
representative samples no matter how, or how far, we carry on the 
process. Some material assumption, e.g., the existence of a limit in 
a rapidly converging series of variations, or the existence of a finite 
number of types or classes in nature, seems to be required if the 
process of “fair” sampling should yield representative ones. It is 
true that such a material assumption is itself a hypothesis, and must 
be evaluated in accordance with the usual canons. But this only goes 
to show that we can get no absolute gucrrantee in advance that any 
given method will work, no matter how trustworthy it may have 
shown itself to be. 

I also can not escape the impression that in spite of Peirce’s 
vehement denial of the principle of antecedent equiprobabilities, it 
returns to plague him. The process of sampling depends on the fact 
that more samples of a certain kind appear than others. But why 
do they? Because, the answer is, more samples of that kind occur m 
the field studied. But since samples not yet drawn exist only 
potentially in the field, it is legitimate to ask why there should be 
potentially more of one kind than of another. And the answer seems 
to be that if all the relevant characters in the field were combined in 
every permissible way, and if all these permissible combinations nvere 



[ 82 ] Sovereign Reason 

antecedently equally probable^ then there would be more of one kind 
than of another. 

Because of the sharp distinction Peirce makes between induction 
and presumption, he tends to obscure the identity of the processes 
employed, say, in evaluating the constitution of a cargo of wheat and 
m determining the correctness of the theory of gravitation.^ This 
has as a consequence an unnecessary restriction of the frequency 
theory of probability, a restriction which is being removed by mod- 
ern students. But already Royce showed that in evaluating a theory 
we are taking samples from all its logical consequences. There is 
therefore no good reason to doubt the universal applicability of the 
frequency theory of probability and the essential identity of scien- 
tific method in all departments of science. 

4 * 

The editors of this edition deserve the congratulations of all stu- 
dents for their self-effacing and intelligent labor in bringing a sem- 
blance of order into a wilderness of manuscript. They have almost 
achieved what Peirce thought impossible for mortal man to do. Each 
volume has been supplied with very full indices, and in several cases 
with helpful explanatory notes. In the light of the enormity of the 
task and the excellence of the achievement, it may seem ungracious 
to find fault. But I think it is unfortunate that Peirce’s larger 
manuscripts have been broken up and distributed throughout the 
volumes; this is especially true for the completed Grand Logic, the 
several chapters of the Minute Logic, and the Lowell Lectures, One 
may also question the judgment of the editors in neglecting to in- 
clude in these early volumes certain outstanding papers to illustrate 
Peirce’s doctrines: e.g., his review of Frazer’s Berkeley for his views 
on nominalism, or his essay on the ^'Fixation of Belief” for his doc- 
trine of fallibilism. Because of the topical arrangement of the papers, 
the historically interested reader will be able to estimate the extent 
to which Peirce’s ideas underwent change only by a painful leafing 
of each volume. It is hoped the editors will manage to include a 
table in the final volume indicating where the component parts of 

9, He declares he had committed a fundamental error in his Johns Hopkins 
essay on *TrobabIe Inference,” but he does not state explicitly what the error 
is (2.102). 



Charles Peirce^s Guesses at the Biddle [ 83 ] 

the larger manuscripts are to be found, and possibly also the 
chronological sequence of the papers. 

5 - 

The original speculative power and acuteness of Peirce's mind 
appear at their very best in the present two installments of the 
Collected Papers.'^^ But space prohibits anything other than a brief 
indication of some of their striking contents. 

Volume III consists entirely of previously published papers on 
what goes by the ill-fitting name of mathematical logic, and includes 
his great series of papers on the logic of relatives. Readmg them 
consecutively one is impressed how steeped Peirce was in the mathe- 
matical researches of his day, and how the inquiries into the nature 
of generalized algebras by men like his father and Sylvester molded 
the course of his own thinking. There can be little question that 
Whitehead’s Universal Algebra represents the culmination of some 
of Peirce’s attempts in that direction. Many of the papers are now 
primarily of historical interest; and looking back upon them from 
the vantage ground of the elegant discussions in the Principia, they 
seem needlessly difficult simply because of the clumsy symbolism 
Peirce employed. And yet, in spite of the frequent incoherence of 
his statements, it is an inspiring experience to see him grappling 
heroically with novel ideas, conquering one only to attack another. 
These papers reveal that while Peirce strove mightily to achieve 
a philosophic system, he was essentially a man of great visions, but 
incapable temperamentally of organizing his ideas into unity and 
coherence. It goes without saying that he anticipated much that 
was independently discovered by others subsequently, e.g., the 
logistic thesis concerning the nature of mathematics, or the essen- 
tial features of Poincare’s theory of applied geometry as a ^"con- 
vention.” In addition, material more or less adequately treated in 
the preceding volumes of this edition, is restated and often ampli- 
fied in both of the present volumes, so that a somewhat clearer light 
is thrown on such things as ""fallibilism” in mathematics and the 
theory of signs. His comments on a variant of logical atomism are 

10. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Edited by Charles Hart- 
shome and Paul Weiss. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1933. Vol. Ill, 
Exact Logic. Pp. xiv-f 433. $5.00. Vol. IV, The Simplest Mathematics. Pp* x 
-j- 601. $6x)0. 



[ 84 ] Sovereign Reason 

eminently worth reading, especially today. His defense of “in- 
finitesimals” is provoking to say the least, even if not clear or con- 
vincing, and even if it seems to miss the point as to why the idea has 
been abandoned. 

Volume IV consists chiefly of hitherto unpublished material on 
the foundation of logic and mathematics. Peirce anticipated the 
ideas expressed in Sheffer’s stroke function, and the ideas as well 
as the use of the currently prominent matrix method. He made 
very full studies of the cardinality of classes, of the well-known con- 
tradiction, of orders of infimty, of linear algebras as instances of 
the general theory of relations; and his demonstrations have inter- 
esting, though sometimes uncritical, variations of the classic proofs. 
His judgment on the metaphysical importance of some of these 
studies seem now curiously unbalanced, e.g., the significance of the 
projective theory of distance; although anyone who has been exalted 
by that subject will surely forgive even an extended period of in- 
tellectual insobriety. His discussion of the logical priority of ordinal 
to cardinal number is particularly good and valuable, and ties up 
directly with the current Grundlagenstreit in mathematics. Also, 
little sermons on the value of logic, on how to read most profitably, 
on free will, on the issues of nominalism, and on the historical 
parallels between styles in architecture and types of logical theory, 
are to be found hidden away amidst technical discussions. 

Peirce paid much attention to logical diagrams as instruments for 
the analysis of logical form, rather than as engines for calculation. 
And he regarded his Existential Graphs, a systematic scheme for 
representing geometrically any proposition however complex, as 
his chef d^oeuvre, A full account of it is included in Volume IV. 
But while the method is ingenious, and in many respects an im- 
provement on the Euler and Venn diagrams, it is very clumsy; and 
it is difficult to attach to it the great importance which Peirce did. 
But perhaps the bearing of Existential Graphs upon Peirce’s prag- 
maticism will become evident in later volumes. 

All in all, Peirce’s technical mastery of detail and his grasp of 
metaphysical issues as revealed in specific subject-matter are most 
impressively exhibited in this latest volume of the edition. It does 
not offer solutions to many pressing questions; it does not even ask 
some that one would like to ask. But it is a mine of suggestions to 
him who has the wit and patience to ferret them out. 



Charles Peirce^s Guesses at the Riddle 


[85] 


6 . 

Of the volumes of the Collected Papers which have appeared thus 
far, the present one^^ is undoubtedly the richest in historical impor- 
tance, in diversity of material, and in veins of thought which still 
remain to be mined. It contains the long awaited Pragmatism 
Lectures, and presents in available form Peirce’s weightiest papers 
on general philosophy—those published in the Journal of Speculative 
Philosophy, I know of no better way to reach the heart of Peirce’s 
doctrines than to read the important essays published in Book II 
of the present volume. The papers in Book III discuss Peirce’s 
relations to the philosophy of common sense, and contain many of 
his own views under the label of critical common-sensism. 

The Pragmatism Lectures repeat with simplifications and some 
elaborations doctrines already familiar from the first two volumes 
of the present edition: the phenomenology of the universal cate- 
gories, the theory of signs, and the analysis of reasoning into its 
three main types. Peirce’s strong idealistic leanings become very 
apparent here as elsewhere; and his views on reflective thought as 
an instrument for establishing general modes of behavior (thus sub- 
ordinating logic to ethics), are brought out clearly. But on the 
whole the Lectures are disappointing: they are repetitious, they lack 
integration, and they contain many irrelevant though often inter- 
esting by-paths. 

With the possible exception of the technical papers on strict 
logic, Peirce’s writings on the theory of meaning seem to me to con- 
tain his most substantial contribution to philosophy. According to 
him, pragmatism maintains that nothing is in the understanding 
unless it is first in the senses, that nevertheless perceptual judgments 
always contain an element of generality or hypothesis, and that 
therefore such judgments are simply limiting cases of abductive rea- 
soning and so always subject to correction. Ideas are to be clarified 
in terms of overt, public behavior of things, not in terms of private 
data of sense or self-luminous abstracta. In this insistance upon 
the intimate connection between sense and reason as well as upon 
the denotative reference of all intellectual conceptions, lie the 

II. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Edited by Charles Hart- 
shorne and Paul Weiss. Volume V, Pragmatism and Pragmaticism. Cambridge; 
Harvard University Press. 1934. Pp, rii + 455. $5^00, 



[ 86 ] Sovereign Reason 

strength and the difficulty of the pragmatic account of meaning. It 
eschews claims to infallible cognitive powers and yet avoids a stulti- 
fying scepticism. It must be admitted that the ambiguities which 
appear in Peirce’s hitherto published writings on the theory of 
meaning are not ironed out in the papers now published for the first 
time. And yet if Peirce had been taken as the standard expositor 
of pragmatism, the often dreary and fruitless polemics on the nature 
of truth during the first two decades of the present century would 
have been avoided, with undoubted profit to the clarification of 
ideas in various departments of thought. For by pragmatism Peirce 
understood a method of making ideas clear, a branch of logic and 
scientific method, not a cosmology or a metaphysic. That is why, 
in spite of his penchant for a form of speculative idealism, he will 
remain a stimulus and a guide to all students of philosophy whose 
passion is to understand rather than to legislate. 

Kant’s influence upon contemporary positivism is a byword. It 
is interesting nevertheless to read Peirce’s account of the indebted- 
ness of his ‘"proto-positivism” to the eighteenth-century thinker, and 
students of the history of ideas will find much in the present volume 
to repay their reading of it. 


7 - 

Students of Peirce’s writings who hope to find in the present 
volume^^ a carefully worked out metaphysics will be disappointed 
by its contents. Most of the papers included in it appeared in Peirce’s 
life-time, and while some of the hitherto unpublished material helps 
fill out lacunae, on the whole there is little in the volume which was 
not known before. Like the preceding volumes in this edition the 
present one is a curious mixture of grandiose cosmological specula- 
tion and penetrating analyses upon a variety of topics. 

The volume begins bravely enough with a program for meta- 
physics of studying the most general features of reality. Peirce 
claims that the objects of metaphysical inquiry are open to observa- 
tion in the same sense that the objects of science are, and he at- 
tributes the backward condition of metaphysics to the fact that its 
leading professors have been theologians. It is perhaps this pro- 

12. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Edited by Charles Hart- 
shome and Paul Weiss. Vol. VI, Scientific Metaphysics. Cambridge. Harvard 
University Press, 1935. Pp. x + 462. $5.00, 



Charles Peirce's Guesses at the Riddle [ 87 ] 

gram and this claim that led the editors to choose the title of ‘'Sci- 
entific Metaphysics” for the volume. However, while Peirce has 
many important things to say about the generic features of reality 
in his discussion of the categories, it is a Schellingian outlook which 
characterizes most of the volume. Peirce declares that “metaphysics 
has to account for the whole universe of being. It has, therefore, 
to do something like supposing a state of things in which that 
universe did not exist, and consider how it could have arisen.” 
There follows the familiar tychistic-agapastic-synechism. Since 
Peirce believes that it is regularity which requires explanation, he 
tries to exhibit it as the product of evolution from the chance ele- 
ments in the universe. His conclusion is that the only intelligible 
theory of nature is a form of objective ideahsm, according to which 
matter is effete mind, the habits of the latter becoming physical laws. 
An interesting feature in this cosmogeny is that not only the actual 
universe but also the Platonic realm of forms is evolutionary in 
origin. 

The best things in the volume, to my mind, are the specific analy- 
ses Peirce makes of such ideas as necessity, chance, space, time, 
infinity, and continuity, and the additional light that is thrown on 
his views on probability and the nature of science. In his discus- 
sion of continuity, Peirce occasionally approaches the standpoint 
of contemporary intuitionism, although he does not work out the 
implications of his views. However, even in his analyses Peirce is 
dominated by his evolutionary cosmology, not always in the interest 
of clarity or cogency. Thus, while Peirce did yeoman service in 
pointing out the contingent factors in the laws of science, he seems 
to me to obscure the issues when he transforms “chance” into a 
substantial agent And while his attack on necessitarianism is im- 
pressive, I do not find that he offers any respectable evidence for 
his view that the “order of nature” is changing, or that these 
changes are brought about through the operation of a primordial 
“mind.” Again, his ideas on space and time, when I can under- 
stand them, seem to me very naive; and his conclusion that legal 
corporations have a “real” personality illustrates the tricks that 
words will play upon minds that should know better. 

It is to be hoped that the remaining volumes of the Collected 
Papers will be published in short order. But enough of Peirce's 
work has now appeared to suggest the conclusion that a consistent 



[ 88 ] Sovereign Reason 

system of ideas can not be forced upon him. He said different and 
incompatible things at different times, and there seems no way of 
reconciling his period of forthright naturalism with the anthropo- 
morphic idealism of other portions of his writings. Peirce character- 
ized himself justly when he declared he was a “mere table of con- 
tents, so abstract, a very snarl of twine.” 



5 

Charles S. Peirce, Pioneer 
of Modern Empiricism 


]S[o ACCOUNT of the development of contemporary empiricim is 
adequate which neglects the writings and the influence of Charles 
Peirce. Although he is not easily pigeon-holed and can not be 
claimed as the exclusive property of any school or movement, it is 
appropriate that the hundredth anniversary of his birth should be 
commemorated at this Congress. For the movement of which it is 
a manifestation is engaged in a cooperative, intensive cultivation 
of the methods of the sciences with the help of the most advanced 
tools of modem logic; and Peirce’s intellectual career was also a 
single-minded devotion to that task. It is fitting, also, that his birth- 
year be celebrated at Harvard by an international congress. For 
although he was denied the privilege of teaching at this university, 
much of his influence was propagated by William James and 
Josiah Royce, two of its great teachers; and however much he may 
have suffered from neglect during his life-time, his work surely 

[89] 



{ 90 ] Sovereign Reason 

merits recognition from a movement not confined by national 
bounds. It is characteristic of the best established sciences that 
though individuals may pursue researches m them independently 
of one another, the conclusions reached tend to support each other 
and to converge toward a common stream of sound beliefs; and 
such convergence is indeed the sole identifiable warrant for the 
confidence that some measure of the truth has been attained. It is 
therefore a happy sign that so many of the central ideas of the 
present movement have been independently developed on both 
sides of the Atlantic. One is not minimizing the contributions of 
the Vienna Circle in pointing out that many of its recent views 
have been taken for granted for some time by American colleagues, 
largely because the latter have come to intellectual maturity under 
the influence of Peirce. 

It may nonetheless impress some as a paradox to count Peirce 
among the formative influences upon participants of this Congress. 
If, as Professor Frank recently stated, Mach is one of the spiritual 
ancestors of the unity of science movement and “the real master 
of the Vienna Circle,” the Peirce who tried to construct a meta- 
physical system in the grand manner, and to provide a framework 
adequate for the results of the special sciences for a long time to 
come, seems definitely out of place in this company. He carried 
on a life-long polemic against positivisms of the type of Comte and 
Pearson; and though he had a high regard for some of the work of 
Mach, he expressed in no uncertain terms his condemnation of 
what he regarded as Mach’s sensationalistic, nominalistic empiri- 
cism.^ He confessed that he owed much to Schelling, and his archi- 
tectonic cosmogony is admittedly a species of absolute idealism. He 
was a diligent student of the history of philosophy, he was brought 
up on Kant and claimed that at one time he knew the first Critique 
by heart, and he had a profound admiration for the scholastics. 

But although Peirce had an abiding passion for system-building, 
his most vigorous efforts did not go into speculative metaphysics; 
and in any case the influence of his metaphysical writings has been 
practically nil— whether because only inadequate outlines of his 
grandiose system appeared during his life-time, or because other 
tendencies which Peirce initiated swamped the effects they may have 

I. Cf. Peirce’s review of Mach’s “The Science of Mechanics,” in The Nation^ 
VoL 57, 1893. 



Charles S. Peirce y Pioneer [ 91 ] 

had otherwise. Indeed, seldom have severer judgments upon the 
claims and methods of traditional metaphysics been made than those 
to be found in his writings. He regarded the intrusion of metaphys- 
ical speculation into science as a hindrance to free inquiry, and 
distrusted an enterprise which has failed to develop methods of 
cooperative research among ns members. His sharp criticism of 
Mach, though in my opinion unjust and not free from misunder- 
standing, were directed against what he took to be an attempt to 
legislate on metaphysical grounds the objects of knowledge, the 
limits of science, and the possible forms of physical theory.^ But 
however this may be, it would be a gross misrepresentation of 
Peirce’s views to regard them as minor variants of traditional philo- 
sophic doctrines. Peirce is the nearest thmg to Leibniz this coun- 
try has produced, and like the latter was able to combine a specula- 
tive bent of a high order of talent and ingenuity with a power of 
sober analysis and sense for concrete fact. His importance in the 
history of recent thought is due to his contributions to logic and 
mathematics, and to the stimulating effect of his first-hand knowl- 
edge of the theoretical and experimental sciences upon the study 
of scientific methods. 

“From the moment when I could think at all,” he wrote in 1897, “^ritil 

2. Thus he declared in the above review. “Sir Isaac Newton formulated 
the three laws of motion which stand today in all the text books The first, 
due to Galileo, is that a body left to itself continues for ever to describe 
equal spaces in equal times on one straight line. The third, Newton^s own 
achievement in great measure, the law of acaon and reaction, is that one body 
cannot be drawn back without other bodies on the same line being drawn 
forward to balance it. Now Newton, with his incomparable clearness of 
apprehension, saw that the third law imphes that spacial displacement is not 
merely relative, and further that, this being granted, the first law implies that 
temporal durauon is not merely relative. Hence Newton drew the conclu- 
sion that there were such realities as Time and Space, and that they were 
something more than words expressive of relations between bodies and events 
This was a scientific conclusion, based upon sound probable reasomng from 
established facts. It was fortified by Foucault’s pendulum experiment, which 
showed that the earth has an absolute motion of rotauon equal to its motion 
relative to the fixed stars. Moreover, Gauss and others were led to ask whether 
It be precisely true that the three angles of a triangle sum up to two right 
angles, and to say that observation alone can decide this question. . . . But 
Mach will not let it go so. His metaphysics tells him that there is no such 
thing as absolute space and time, and consequently no such thing as abso- 
lute motion. The laws of monon must be revised in such a way that they 
shall not predict that result of Foucault’s experiment which they diid success- 
fully predict, and that non-Euciidean geometry must be put aside on meta- 
physical grounds. Is not this making fact bend to theory?” Op. at., p. 252. 



[ 9^ ] Sovereign Reason 

now, about forty years, I have been diligently and incessantly occupied 
with the study of methods of inquiry, both those which have been and 
are pursued and those which ought to be pursued. For ten years before 
this study began, I had been in training in the chemical laboratory. I 
was thoroughly grounded not only in aU that was then known of physics 
and chemistry, but also in the way in which those who were successfully 
advancing knowledge proceeded. I have paid the most attention to the 
methods of the most exact sciences, have intimately communed with 
some of the greatest minds of our times in physical science, and have 
myself made positive contributions—none of them of any very great im- 
portance, perhaps— in mathematics, gravitation, optics, chemistry, astron- 
omy, etc. I am saturated, through and through, with the spirit of the 
physical sciences.”^ 

It is unnecessary on this occasion to speak of Peirce’s contribu- 
tions to formal logic (e.g., his improvements upon Boole’s work, 
his development of the logic of relations, etc.), for these have been 
recognized long ago; and it is a safe conjecture that his technical 
papers on these subjects are now primarily of historical interest. It 
is worth pointing out, nevertheless, that for Peirce formal logic 
was simply one division of the general theory of signs. An adequate 
logical theory, according to him, must take into account the com- 
plicated properties and functions of signs in inquiry, and even the 
rules of formal logic were regarded by him as intimately related 
to the habits of action generated in the course of successful inquiry. 
Thus, the alleged facts of ‘‘consciousness” were dismissed by him 
as totally irrelevent to the question of the validity of the laws of 
logic; for even if consciousness were annulled it would still remain 
true, he said, “that such and such a habit of determining one virtual 
store of knowledge by another will result in the concentration of 
action so as to bring about definite ends”— to which he added that 
rationality consists in the fact that the rational being will act so 
as to attain certain ends.^ Accordingly, Peirce was one of the most 
pronounced foes of attempts to base logic upon inner feelings of 
certitude or other facts of individual psychology, and his concep- 
tion of the nature and function of formal logic is incompatible 
with interpretations of inquiry in terms of a “mentalistic” theory 
of thinking. 

Peirce’s distinctive contributions to logic as the general theory 


3. Charles S, Peirce, Cpllected Papers^ 1.3. AU references, unless otherwise 
specified, are to volume and paragraph of Ais edition of Peirce’s writings. 

4. 2.66. 



Charles 5 . Peirce, Pioneer [ 93 ] 

of signs center around his pragmatism, his critical common-sensism, 
and his fallibilism. By far the best known is his pragmatic maxim, 
proposed as a method for clarifying ideas, eliminating specious 
problems, and unmasking mystification and obscurantism hiding 
under the cloak of apparent profundity.® In one form or another 
his proposal was adopted by a number of distinguished thinkers, 
for example, in this country by William James and John Dewey, 
so that today it is almost a commonplace. Peirce’s own formulation 
of the pragmatic maxim leaves much to be desired in the way of 
explicitness and clarity; and more recent formulations, such as 
those by Professor Carnap and others, have the same general intent 
but superior precision. I nevertheless venture two general remarks 
on the Peircean version of pragmatism which, though obvious, 
merit attention. 

The pragmatic maxim was intended as a guiding principle of 
analysis. It was offered to philosophers in order to bring to an end 
disputes which no observation of facts could settle because they 
involved terms with no definite meaning. It was directed at the 
Cartesian doctrine of clear and distinct ideas, which found the 
terminus of analysis in vague abstractions claimed to be grasped 
intuitively, as well as at the common tendency to convert types 
of behaviors into unknowable agencies controlling the flux of 
events. Above all, it pointed to the fact that the “meanings” of 
terms and statements relevant in inquiry consist in their being used 
in determinate and overt ways. Pragmatism, to employ Peircean lan- 
guage, was thus a proposal to understand general terms in terms of 
their concrete application, rather than vice versa. “We should hardly 
find today a man of Kirchhoff’s rank in science,” he wrote in 1903, 
“saying that we know exactly what energy does but what energy 
is we do not know in the least. For the answer would be that 
energy being a term in a dynamical equation, if we know how to 
apply that equation, we know thereby what energy is. . . Now 

5. His earliest version of it runs as follows. “Consider what effects, that 
might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our con- 
ception to have. Then, our concepuon of these effects is the whole of our 
conception of the object.” 5402. ^ 

6. 5.207. Twenty-five years earlier Peirce wrote: “In how many profound 
treatises is not force spoken of as a ‘mysterious entity/ which seems to be 
only a way of confessing that the author despairs of ever getting a clear notion 
of what the word means! In a recent admired work on AndyUcal Mechanics 
it is stated that we understand precisely the effect of force, but what force 



[ 94 ] Sovereign Reason 

my first point is that the pragmatic maxim should be construed as 
an invitation to analyze specific concepts m a definite way. This 
“definite way’’ places emphasis upon the contexts in which terms 
occur and upon the complex of relevant practices involved in their 
use. Pragmatism does not supply a formula which states once for 
all what the meaning of a statement is; for when its maxim is taken 
seriously, it excludes the assumption that the meaning of a sentence 
can be determined in isolation from the system of sentences in 
which it occurs, the rules governing its acceptance, and the kind of 
behavior associated with it. It is unfortunate that so much energy 
has gone into controversy about the wholesale meaning of “mean- 
ing,” as if any formula could state with adequacy the multifarious 
ways in which that word is used, instead of being turned into 
analyses of the specific uses of terms in diflFerent contexts. Would 
it not be well to shelve the term “meaning” in philosophic discus- 
sion and talk instead of the way in which terms are used'^ Prag- 
matism does not constitute another ambitious “prolegomena for 
every future inquiry,” and it would be a pity if, mistaken for such 
rather than taken as a fruitful leading principle of inquiry, it would 
meet the fate of the Cartesian, Lockian, and Kantian systems. Peirce 
himself instituted the sort of analysis of several specific concepts 
called for by his maxim, and Mach’s work is still valuable primarily, 
it seems to me, because of the splendid examples of such analysis 
it carried through. 

I have already skirted my second point. Peirce’s version of prag- 
matism locates the intellectual purport of conceptions not in indi- 
vidual sensations or perceptions, but in the concrete habits or ten- 
dencies to action to which their acceptance leads. “The whole 
function of thought,” he maintained, “is to produce habits of 
action; and that whatever there is connected with a thought, but 
irrelevant to its purpose, is an accretion to it but no part of it. If 
there be a unity among our sensations which has no reference to 
how we shall act on a given occasion, as when we listen to a piece 
of music, why we do not call that thinking. To develop its mean- 

itself is we do not understand! This is simply a self-contradiction. The idea 
which the word force excites in our minds has no other function than to 
affect our actions, and these actions can have no reference to force otherwise 
than through its effects. Consequently, if we know what the effects of force 
are, we are acquainted with every fact which is implied in saying that a 
force exists, and there is nothing more to know” 5404. 



Charles S. Peirce^ Pioneer [ 95 ] 

ing, we have, therefore, simply to determine what habits it pro- 
duces, for what a thing means is simply the habits it involves. Now, 
the identity of a habit depends on how it might lead us to act, not 
merely under such circumstances as are likely to arise, but under 
such as might possibly occur, no matter how improbable they may 
be. What the habit is depends on nvhen and how it causes us to 
act.”’’ 

It is clear that this pronouncement is at least verbally different 
from the current version of the verifiability principle, according to 
which empirical propositions must be reducible to observation 
statements containing various sorts of observation predicates. With- 
out intending to minimize the remarkable clarification which such 
a formulation has introduced or to question its superiority in point 
of precision over that given by Peirce, it seems to me, nevertheless, 
that an adequate empiricism can not afford to neglect Peirce’s 
emphasis upon habits of action or to concentrate entirely upon the 
reduction of one set of statements to others. For in the first place, 
this emphasis makes evident the continuity of knowledge-getting 
with other organic activities. It involves the conception of inquiry 
as occurring in a definite context, instituted to settle specific doubts 
and problems, and terminating in an equally definite way with the 
establishment of smoothly-working habits of action which have 
mastered the difficulties for which die inquiry was initiated. Knowl- 
edge thus becomes identifiable as the product of overt behavior 
involving cooperative effort in a community of inquirers, rather 
than as the outcome of a purely subcutaneous mental activity. So 
conceived, knowledge is in fact frequently obtained, for the claim 
to possess it does not involve the preposterous requirement that the 
outcome of one inquiry be incorrigible by further inquiry, or that 
unless it carries the traits of absolute finality and all-inclusiveness 
the product of research is not knowledge. Peirce thus laid the 
foundation for a theory of inquiry which eschewed a mentalistic, 
introspective psychology, and he espoused a molar behaviorism at 
a time when it was regarded as fanciful speculation. 

In the second place, Peirce’s emphasis is fatal to the conception 
that science must be grounded upon an indubitable apprehension of 
simple elements, whether these be atomic-facts, sense-data, or 
essences, all pre-manufactured and neady packaged; for it entails 


7. 5400. 



[ 96 ] Sovereign Reason 

the view that alleged “simples” must be contextually interpreted 
and that they are products of inquiry which has learned to isolate 
certain features of the environment as reliable clues to what is going 
on. It points to the fact that the adequate use of even the simplest 
observational terms of whatever type involves habits of manipulat- 
ing objects in the environment, and that the established sense of 
even the most abstract terms of science involves reference at some 
point to gross, overt activities. Surely, no one would take seriously 
the professed acceptance of the physicalistic thesis of the reduci- 
bility of all terms to those occurring in every-day observation, if 
that acceptance did not go hand in hand with appropriate types of 
gross behavior associated with such observation terms. And the 
contemporary insistence upon methodological principles as reso- 
lutions and rules of language, fails in its objective to exhibit the 
logical articulation of science if it neglects the practical compulsions 
involved in the construction and manipulation of technological and 
laboratory apparatus. 

At the risk of treading upon ground on which angels fear to 
step, I should also like to mention the elementary point that in terms 
of Peirce’s emphasis neither terms nor statements can be regarded 
as designating, independently of the habits involved in their use. 
Consequently, “the meaning” of expressions is not to be sought in 
self-subsisting “facts,” “essences,” or other “designata,” but must 
be construed in terms of the procedures associated with them in 
specific contexts. Some have suspected, perhaps unjustly, that the 
recently inaugurated discipline of semantics will open wide the 
door for the rehabilitation of Bolzano’s Saetze-an^-Sich, Meinong’s 
objectives, Russell’s subsistents, and allied conceptions of the refer- 
ends of signs. Though such doctrines have had fruitful historical 
roles, I think it would be a retrograde step if modern logical empiri- 
cism were to revive them in a new form; for the great strength and 
promise of the movement has been its interpretation of the abstract 
in terras of the concrete, and its resolute turning from speculations 
which have no ascertainable consequences in issues of observable 
fact. I can think of no better way to still these suspicions than by 
placing the study of semantics into a behavioral context, and by 
instituting an analysis of such key semantic terms as “designation” 
and “truth” as used in specific contexts, in order to reveal the modes 
of action they signify. 



Charles S. Peirce, Pioneer [ 97 ] 

Peirce’s critical commoa-sensism is integral to the pragmatic at- 
titude as developed in the present paper. Though indebted to the 
Scotch common-sense realists for some of his ideas and language, 
Peirce had nothing in common with their dogmatic faith in self- 
evident truths or their attempets to estabhsh a bedrock foundation 
for current theologies and social theories. His critical common- 
sensism was an elaboration of his fundamental insight that in any 
inquiry we must plunge into medias res with all the beliefs and 
prejudices we actually have, and that we can not, even in principle, 
engage in a universal Cartesian scepticism. Every inquiry uses and 
takes for granted many habitual modes of action as well as specific 
assumptions about the course of events, which in that inquiry func- 
tion as indubitables; and many of these assumptions, largely because 
they are vague, have withstood the test of repeated experience, so 
that it would be idle to doubt them. The adequacy of specific be- 
liefs and habits is constantly put into question; but there can be 
no intelligible scepticism concerning our crude experience as a 
whole, since the formulation of every specific doubt requires dis- 
tinctions themselves significant only in terms of the procedures of 
the common-day world. It is not possible, therefore, to dispense 
with the vague indubitables of every-day experience. Habitual be- 
havior can not be “justified” by any theory of logic or of the 
universe, and it can not be “clarified” by trying to exhibit it as a 
complex of psychological or ontological simples, since every attempt 
to do so must be brought to the test in the work-a-day world of 
gross, vague distinctions. The justification and clarification can be 
brought about only by showing what the consequences of such 
behavior are, and that it is adequate to the situation at hand— it 
being noted that the consideration of consequences and adequacy 
leads finally to the same sort of gross behavior which furnished the 
occasion for doubt. 

Peirce claimed no infallibility for the beliefs of every-day ex- 
perience, and indeed one of the cardinal tenets of his thought was 
a universal fallibilism. Peirce’s fallibilism is a consequence of his 
regarding the method of science as the most successful yet devised 
for achieving stable beliefs and reliable conclusions; it has nothing 
to do with the malicious scepticism which rejects science on the 
ground that its conclusions are after all not established as being be- 
yond the possibility of error, only to invoke a special set of impera- 



[ 98 ] Sovereign Reason 

tives as indubitable objects of human endeavor. Peirce noted that the 
conclusion of no scientific inquiry is exempt from revision and cor- 
rection, that scientists feel surer of their general logic of procedure 
than of any particular conclusions reached by it, and that the method 
of science is self-corrective, both as to its own specific features and 
the specific conclusions gained with it. These insights dovetail 
neatly with what has already been said concerning the importance 
of construing concepts and statements in terms of the procedures 
associated with them; for it is a simple corollary from this that the 
conclusions of science must also be understood in terms of the 
methods used to establish them, so that the reliability of the con- 
clusions must be a function, first and last, of the character of the 
methods. That is why Peirce found unacceptable theories of atomic 
facts and sensory simples as indubitable objects of knowledge, 
or the pretensions of philosophers to map the limits and possible 
objects of science— for each of these illustrates a dogmatism 
which blocks the road to inquiry, and to block this road was 
for Peirce the least forgivable and most dangerous intellectual 
vice. 

Peirce was one of the earliest proponents of the frequency inter- 
pretation of probability statements, and though contemporary for- 
mulations of that view are superior to his, what he has to say on 
the general theme may still be read with profit. As is well known, 
there is still disagreement among competent students as to the scope 
of the frequency theory of probability and its relation to the pro- 
cedures of induction. Peirce’s views on this point, though not free 
from difficulties, suggest promising lines of inquiry. 

“The true guarantee of the validity of induction,” he declared, “is that 
it is a method of reaching conclusions which, if it be persisted in long 
enough, will assuredly correct any error concerning future experience 
into which it may temporarily lead us. . . . It may be conceived, and 
often is conceived, that induction leads a probability to its conclusion. 
Now that is not the way induction leads to the truth. It lends no definite 
probability to its conclusion. It is nonsense to talk of the probability of 
a law, as if we could pick umverses out of a grab-bag and find in what 
proportion of them the law held good. . . . The justification for believing 
that an experimental theory which has been subjected to a number of 
experimental tests will be in the near future sustained as well by further 
such tests as it has hitherto been, is that by steadily pursuing that method 
we must in the long run find out how the matter really stands. The rea- 
son that we must do so is that our theory, if it be admissible even as a 



Charles S. Peirce^ Pioneer [ 99 ] 

theory, simply consists in supposing that such experiments will in the 
long run have results of a certain character.”® 

Peirce’s writings on induction are not uniformly clear, but in the 
main they are consistent with his insistence upon the character of 
the method used to test them as providing the only identifiable 
ground for regarding the theories of science as reliable. 

Toward the end of his life Peirce enumerated a number of tenets 
which he regarded as fundamental to his version of pragmatism, and 
which set him off from other thinkers. The list included the fol- 
lowing: the denial of necessitarianism; the rejection of any “con- 
sciousness” different from a visceral or other external sensation; 
the acceptance of the notion of infinity as significant; the acknowl- 
edgment that there are real habits which would produce effects 
under circumstances that may not happen to get actualized; and 
the insistence upon interpreting all hypostatic abstraction in terms 
of what they would or might come to in the concrete.^ It is danger- 
ous, I know, to try to fore# a fluid and developing movement into 
the framework of a set of rubrics devised for another purpose; 
nevertheless, it seems to me that on these points contemporary logi- 
cal empiricism differs from Peirce only in relative emphasis and 
mode of presentation, and stands closer to him than did most of his 
own contemporaries. It is not improper, therefore, to claim him as a 
spiritual ancestor of the movement which this congress represents, 
and as an important formative influence upon the development of 
at least its American participants. 

Peirce once evaluated his own work as follows: “Just as there 
are many fogies—old and young— who with idle conservatism dis- 
pute the value of my work, so, unless the whole congregation of 
logicians experiences a regeneration, I expect the day will come 
when another generation of old and young fogies wiE be equaUy 
indisposed to admit that there is any comer of the whole field that 
I have not turned up, and put into the right condition.”^® The 
density of old and young fogies among logical empiricists is I think 
vanishingly smaU, and there is probably no one among its members 
and sympathizers who would accept Peirce in toto^ or who would 
not acknowledge him to have been mistaken on a number of funda- 

8. 2.769, 2.78b, 5.170, 

9. 6485. 

10. 6.319. 



[ jQQ ] Sovereign Reason 

mental points, such as his naive conceptions of absolute space, his 
curious apriori deduction of the types of actual physical forces, or 
his failure to note the regulative and definitory function of a num- 
ber of scientific principles. We can nevertheless honor him with 
clear conscience for what he achieved of lasting value. Were he 
still among us he would surely have endorsed the happy marriage 
of the cultivation of logic and the empirical temper which dis- 
tinguishes this movement, and he would have jomed hands with us 
in furthering the quest for and the understanding of progressively 
more adequate tools of inquiry. 



6 


Dewey's Theory 
of Natural Science 


I. 

There is a curious and distressing paradox associated with the 
growth of modem natural science. No one doubts that the expan- 
sion of experimental techniques in conjunction with the develop- 
ment of mathematically formulated theory has given us unprece- 
dented intellectual and practical mastery over many sectors of 
nature. Indeed, the maxim that knowledge is power, is widely ac- 
knowledged as a tmth that has become an almost painfud platitude. 
Nevertheless, scientific theory is frequently so construed that in- 
stead of rendering the universe more intelligible and making men 
feel more at home in it, both the constitution of nature and man’s 
place in it have become more puzzling and mysterious. 

Two interpretations of modem science have had an especially 
wide currency. According to one, the discoveries of natural science, 
especially of physics, make it impossible to suppose that the familiar 

[lOl] 



[ 102 ] Sovereign Reason 

aspects of things encountered in every-day experience have a gen- 
uine place in the objective order of nature, or that the quahties 
manifested in our ordinary commerce with the world are anything 
but illusory appearances. According to the other, the conceptions 
of theoretical science are mere fictions, and at best only convenient 
practical devices; they do not express the true characters of things, 
and they are without relevance for matters of intimate human con- 
cern. On either view, incoherent answers await questions concern- 
ing the obvious efficacy of scientific knowledge in controlling the 
course of familiar events, or concerning the relation of the human 
scene to the rest of nature. On either view, fixed limits are imputed 
to the scope of scientific method, and in consequence large areas 
of human experience are held to be inherently incapable of fruitful 
exploration by responsible scientific inquiry. In short, instead of 
being recogmzed as an agent for liberating and redirecting human 
energies, modem science is viewed in many quarters with anxious 
dread or complacent indifference. 

The factors responsible for this paradoxical state of affairs are 
to be found partly in the historical circumstances under which mod- 
ern science has developed, and partly in the inherent character of 
modem natural science. Natural as well as social sciences have been 
cultivated in an environment in which powerful vested interests have 
been hostile to the pursuit of free inquiry. For many centuries, prev- 
alent conceptions of social and political organization, no less than 
entrenched beliefs on moral and religious subjects, have been 
coupled with traditional assumptions concerning the mechanisms of 
physical nature. Accordingly, the intellectual progress that suc- 
cessfully challenged the latter also became a constant threat to 
hallowed social ideals and deeply laid religious convictions. To be 
sure, established churches and other institutions eventually learned 
how to square their theological, social and moral creeds with the 
latest findings of physical and even biological science. And what 
more effective means for doing just this could have been devised 
than that of so constming scientific findings that they are merely 
convenient formulations of techniques of control, incapable of ever 
rendering some assumed ‘‘inner nature” of things? Even so, a 
strong emotional and overt resistance still persists to what is widely 
felt to be the intrusion of scientific methods into the discussion of 
human affairs. 



Dewey's Theory of Natural Science [ 103 ] 

But there are other reasons, more intrinsic to the nature of mod- 
dem theoretical science, for the paradoxical philosophies that have 
trailed its developments. Modem science is not primarily concerned 
with the uses which things have in specifically human contexts, but 
rather with the invariant conditions under which events occur and 
with the mutual interrelations of things. In consequence, theoretical 
physics operates with distinctions that are both highly abstract and 
apparently incongruous with notions employed in habitual expe- 
rience. In pomt of fact, the objects postulated in modern physics, 
such as atoms and electrons, possess by their very definition few if 
any of the qualities that identify and mark off the familiar things of 
human life. For example, neither colors, nor sounds, nor odors, nor 
even determinate positions and shapes are attributed to the funda- 
mental particles of current sub-atomic theories. However, if physics 
is assumed to disclose the ultimate and exclusive characters of things, 
there is an obvious discrepancy between what the sciences appar- 
ently teach and what is found in gross experience. How tempting 
and seemingly cogent, therefore, is the explanation of this dis- 
crepancy which views the distinctions and principles in terms of 
which we order our daily lives as belonging merely to a realm of 
subjective appearance! 

This conclusion, moreover, is often supported by another line of 
argument. The physics and physiology of perception show that 
the qualities commonly attributed to things are in fact manifested 
only under special conditions, among which must be counted the 
presence of biological organisms. It seems plain, therefore, that the 
directly apprehended quahties are not traits which things possess 
absolutely and independently of their interaction with organic 
bodies. And since such qualities do not belong to the “world of 
physics,” it is concluded that they do not form part of the objective 
order of nature. In brief, contrary to the naive realistic view, things 
are not what they seem. On the other hand, every actual inquiry 
into the causal patterns of nature takes its point of departure from 
immediately experienced qualitative events, and it also terminates 
in such an experience. For it is in the precarious existence of quali- 
tative events that the sciences find their problems; and it is in the 
agreement of their occurrence with assumed laws that evidence 
for the latter is obtained. But if the qualities encountered in common 
experience are held to belong exclusively to a realm of subjective 



[ 104 ] Sovereign Reaso?i 

appearance, while the mechanisms discovered by physics are taken 
to constitute the tme reality, then science is indeed at war with 
itself. As one typical contemporary reading of the import of natural 
science states the general outcome, naive realism leads to physics, 
but if physics is true then naive realism is false. On this analysis, 
therefore, one is left with the choice of either accepting natural 
science but rejecting as basically illusory the things that constitute 
men’s most familiar and valued experiences, or accepting the ob- 
jective character of the common-sense view of things but denying 
the validity and relevance of modem science for matters of prime 
human concern. 


2 . 

It is this alleged impasse of modem science, so paradoxical in its 
formulation and so devastating in its practical consequences, which 
has been at the focus of Dewey’s attention during his long philo- 
sophical career. He has consistently maintained that this impasse is 
generated by misconceptions concerning the relation of the objects 
and distinctions of physical science to the things of ordinary ex- 
perience. And he has in fact identified as one of the outstanding 
issues of modem philosophy the clarification of just this problem. 

Dewey has been intensely concerned with the problem, because 
he recognized early in his career that mistaken notions about the 
status of physical objects stand in the way of successfully exploiting 
the potentialities of modem science for the enrichment of human 
life. In particular, he has noted repeatedly and with untiring zeal 
the fatal import of the traditional dualistic interpretation of science 
for the other paramount issue of modern philosophy—the integration 
of men’s beliefs about the world as derived from natural science, 
with the principles in terms of which men direct and evaluate their 
private and public conduct. An interpretation of the nature of sci- 
entific objects which requires either the wholesale rejection of or- 
dinary experience as illusory, or the condemnation of theoretical 
science as mere convenient fiction, makes impertinent the findings 
of natural science to the problems of human society. Such an inter- 
pretation effectively deprives the tried logic of scientific method 
of any authority in the treatment of morality, and kills in the bud 
the promise implicit in the scientific enterprise of freeing men from 
the bondage of frustrating custom. 



Deavey^s Theory of Natural Science [ 105 ] 

Dewey’s ultimate concern with the technical problems of the 
theory of knowledge is thus moral in intent. However, he has not 
been content with simply identifying the crucial issues of modem 
philosophy; and he has never discussed them in merely moralistic 
terms. A long lifetime of sustained eifort has gone into his attempt 
to solve these problems, and to solve them in a technically compe- 
tent manner. Hhs analysis of the status of scientific objects is indeed 
not written for the man who reads as he runs, and is inextricably 
linked with details in his often difficult account of the nature of 
knowledge. Moreover, much of his discussion is carried on in the 
midst of a far-flung polemic against what he believes are outmoded 
views on the subject. For in his attempt to resolve the alleged im- 
passe of modern science, an essential feature of Dewey’s strategy 
consists in showing that the problem vanishes and becomes unintel- 
ligible, when once the traditional preconceptions which generate 
it are successfully challenged. 

Dewey’s analysis of the relation of scientific objects to matters 
of direct experience is rooted in one firm assumption which he 
does not always make fully explicit. The premise from which he 
operates is that distinctions must be understood in terms of the 
concrete uses for which they are devised, and that in particular 
scientific ideas must be construed in terms of their identifiable 
functions in the context of inquiry. This assumption is unavoidable 
in any responsible analysis, and is in any case decisive. Unless scien- 
tific conceptions are construed in agreement with it, any proposed 
interpretation of scientific discourse will be arbitrary; it will be 
based on preconceptions derived from some tacit philosophical 
commitments, rather than on the actual operative meaning of the 
language of science. 

It was Einstein who advised students of the methods of theo- 
retical physics to concern themselves, not with accounts scientists 
happen to give of what they do, but with their actual procedures 
and achievements. Long before this advice was given, and long be- 
fore it became fashionable to preach the virtues of functionalist or 
contextualist analysis, Dewey was practicing it with energy and a 
considerable measure of consistency. It is from this standpoint that 
he has conducted intellectual war into the camps of traditional 
philosophies of science; and by adopting that approach he has saved 
himself from much futility and avoided some serious errors. It has 



[ io6 ] Sovereign Reason 

prevented him from regarding scientific theory as merely a con- 
densed transcript of the immediate content of experience, as well 
as from attempting the impossible task of translating theoretical 
statements into statements about directly apprehended sensory quali- 
ties. It has led him to emphasize the continuity of refined scientific 
procedures with modes of solving problems on more primitive levels 
of behavior, and to recognize in consequence that the conception 
of scientific theory as a system of mere fiction makes incomprehen- 
sible the whole practical life of man. It has enabled him to see that 
the adequacy or validity of ideas is not warranted by their supposed 
derivation from materials of sense, but rather by the consequences 
of their use. And above all, it has served him as the means for show- 
ing that science is not a disclosure of a reality superior to and 
incompatible with the things of ordinary experience. 


3 - 

The central thesis of Dewey’s theory of science is that it does not 
disclose realms of being antithetical to the familiar things of hfe, 
simply because scientific objects are formulations of complex rela- 
tions of dependence between things in gross experience. More spe- 
cifically, the constructions of theoretical physics are viewed by him 
as intellectual means for organizing the discontinuous occurrences 
of directly experienced qualities, as ways of thinking about matters 
in gross experience in order to obtain some measure of control over 
their histories. 

It follows directly from this thesis that scientific discoveries con- 
cerning the conditions of occurrences of things in ordinary experi- 
ence cannot possibly impugn the objective reality of the latter. Why 
should the fact, for example, that the occurrence of heat and cold 
is contingent upon certain distributions of molecular energies, con- 
stitute ground for denying that the sun is hot or that snow is cold.^^ 
And why should the further fact that in the absence of definite 
physiological conditions these qualities are not manifested, count 
as reason for denying that heat and cold are objective features of 
those existential situations in which both the physical and physio- 
logical conditions are realized? 

To be sure, physics is not concerned with the physiological con- 
ditions for the occurrence of various qualities; for physics seeks to 
find relational orders of dependence that are invariant for all per- 



Deuoey^s Theory of Natural Science [ 107 ] 

cipient organisms, and that are independent of the latter’s presence 
or absence. But what is canonical for physics is not therefore a 
measure of objective existence; and only an arbitrary preference, 
rooted in an influential intellectual tradition, will assign exclusive 
reality to invariant relational orders. In point of fact, even the prop- 
erties which physics ascribes to its objects, such as mass, are mani- 
fested only under certain contingent if pervasive conditions. Were 
every property which is relational in this sense denied a place in 
the objective order of nature, physics too should be regarded as 
dealing only with what is subjective. The crux of the matter is that 
if only absolutely invariant universal patterns of relations are assumed 
to be genuinely objective, nothing that is individual, specific, and 
limited can have any place in objective nature. But those who adopt 
this criterion are then faced with the outrageous paradox of having 
relations without terms to be related as the sole furniture of genuine 
reality. Is the notion of a cat with a grin but no body a more fan- 
tastic conception of the way of things? 

Dewey’s account of scientific objects is thus accompanied by a 
reaflirmation of the claims of gross experience. But the naive real- 
ism he defends is free from the dogmatic naivete so frequently asso- 
ciated with philosophies of common sense. He emphatically includes 
the various qualities of ordinary experience among the ultimate fur- 
niture of the world. But he does not assume that the immediate 
apprehension of qualities constitutes knowledge of them. Kriowl- 
edge for Dewey is always the terminus of inquiry y and involves the 
establishment of relations of dependence between what is thus 
directly experienced and what is not. What these relations are, how- 
ever, is not to be settled by intuition or authority, whether the 
problem under consideration involves issues of physics, private 
morality or public policy. It is pre-eminently a matter requiring 
reflective thought or experimental inquiry. 

Indeed, it is precisely in this context that the objects of science 
manifest their distinctive functions. It is in situations where one seeks 
to discover the conditions upon which the occurrence of immediate 
qualities depends, that scientific objects serve as general schema for 
analyzing things of ordinary experience in terms of their systematic 
relations to other events and potentialities in nature. Accordingly, 
the postulated objects of theoretical physics are not things which 
in turn require to be sensed or directly experienced. When viewed 



[ io8 ] Sovereign Reason 

in terms of their status identifiable in inquiry, they represent ways 
of conceiving and ordering what is capable of being sensed and 
experienced. No legitimate puzzle resides m the fact that the ob- 
jects of physical theory do not possess the qualitative differentia of 
things of every-day experience. A mystifying puzzle does arise if 
the former are converted by some dialectical prestidigitation into 
another set of individuals which require to be directly encountered 
if they are to be adequately known. 

4 - 

An impressive quantity of concrete evidence confirms Dewey’s 
account of the status of scientific objects, but there are also diffi- 
culties which confront it. Both supporting evidence and difficulties 
must now be briefly examined. 

It is beyond reasonable dispute that at least one function of any 
scientific theory is that of a generalized directive for treading the 
complex maze of events with which men are directly confronted in 
gross experience. For as has already been noted, every inquiry into 
empirical subject-matter is initiated and controlled by problems 
concerning matters that are encountered in such experience. And 
every proposed resolution of such problems, every theory which 
aims to specify the conditions upon which the occurrences generat- 
ing these problems are contingent, must satisfy the minimal require- 
ment of indicating factors to be found in gross experience through 
which those conditions can be identified. For otherwise problems 
are not solved, and theories are speculative fancies which cannot be 
checked by observational data. Accordingly, even when a theory 
postulates the existence of particles and processes which are quite 
unlike the materials of ordinary experience, the raison d^etre of the 
postulation is the enlarged and clarified understanding of the mutual 
relations between these latter that the postulation may help to 
achieve. 

It would be superfluous to cite examples in which theoretical con- 
structions do serve as guides for mastering men’s environment— the 
full basis for this claim must be sought in the detailed history of 
the theoretical sciences and the technologies nourished by them. 
But apart from examples and history, the claim will be reinforced 
if attention is directed to some familiar features of physical theory 
and to certain circumstances of the use of such theory in inquiry* 



Dewey'^s Theory of Natural Science [ 109 ] 

A striking trait of theories in the natural sciences, and especially 
of mathematical physics, is the absence of any mention in them of 
specific places and dates or of individual objects and events. In 
consequence, these theories do not describe anything actually exist- 
ing in any specified sector of nature. How then does such a theory 
acquire a specific import for specific problems dealing with specific 
spatio-temporal events, for example for a problem concerning the 
occurrence of a solar eclipse at some place on the earth’s surface? 
The answer is well known. A theory can help resolve a problem 
concerning definite spatio-temporal occurrences, only if it is sup- 
plemented by special information about local configurations of 
events and objects njohich the theory itself indicates as being relevant. 
For solving the problem about the occurrence of an eclipse, for 
example, the special information needed includes the relative posi- 
tions and diameters of the sun, moon, and the earth at a certain time. 
But the need for such supplementary information makes plain that 
a theory is a generalized formula for resolving a broad class of 
problems, and that one important function of the formula is to 
indicate just what specific data must be secured about an actual 
situation if a concrete instance of the class of problems is to be 
solved. Accordingly, although a theory is not itself a description of 
what happens to exist, it is at the very least a generalized plan for 
guiding the direction of overt observation and experiment on what 
does exist. 

There is another feature of physical theory that deserves notice. 
The fundamental assumptions of many comprehensive theories are 
usually stated for so-called “pure” or “ideal” cases, and more gen- 
erally theoretical statements are frequently formulated in terms of 
“limiting” or “ideal” concepts. Such pure cases are rarely if ever 
encountered in experience; and limiting concepts, sometimes as a 
consequence of their mode of definition, cannot be taken as descrip- 
tive characterizations of anything that is experimentally identifiable. 
For example, no completely isolated physical systems occur in na- 
ture, though at least one of Newton’s axioms of motion is stated for 
just such a system; and notions such as that of instantaneous velocity 
or perfect elasticity are widely employed in mechanics even though 
no actual bodies can be directly subsumed under them. Nevertheless, 
pure cases and ideal concepts have significant uses in inquiry: through 
their use it is possible to state with maximum economy and com- 



[ 1 10 ] Sovereign Reason 

prehensive generality what are the relevant factors in qualitatively 
diverse materials upon which the course of events depends, and 
thereby to state the mutual interrelations of apparently independent 
processes. However, and this is the essential point, the systematic 
analysis that is achieved through the use of ideal concepts can be 
carried through only if these concepts are associated with explicit 
or tacit rules of overt procedure for handling materials of gross 
experience. For since ideal concepts are not directly applicable to 
the objects of ordinary experience, these latter must be “cooked” 
and worked over if they are to be subsumed as “instances” under 
such concepts. A theory which uses the notion of perfect elasticity, 
for example, must be coupled with a set of directions that specify, 
even if only vaguely, how bodies are to be classified and ordered 
with respect to their elastic properties; otherwise the theory swims 
in a void, and cannot serve to illumine anything actual. But if such 
rules are inevitable supplements to viable theories employing ideal 
concepts, those theories will always contain as an essential compo- 
nent directives for discriminating relevant features in concrete sub- 
ject-matters. It is in part because these associated rules of procedure 
are frequently not formulated explicitly, that theories often seem so 
utterly remote from and even incompatible with what is encoun- 
tered in direct experience. And it is in part because scientific theories 
are frequently interpreted simply on the basis of their formal struc- 
ture, and in disregard of the tacit rules essential for their use in 
dealing with specific existential problems, that the function of theo- 
ries as guiding principles for overt observation and experiment is 
often ignored. 


5 - 

It has been customary in the analysis and interpretation of science 
to distinguish between two types of theory. One type, variously 
labelled as “macroscopic,” “phenomenological,” and “abstractive,” 
is said to “abstract” determinate relations between macroscopic, 
directly identifiable objects, and to eschew all hypotheses which 
assume “hidden” and “unobserveable” mechanisms that operate “be- 
hind” the manifest phenomena, Newton’s theory of gravitation, 
Fourier’s theory of heat conduction, and classical thermodynamics, 
are the commonly cited examples of this type of physical theory; 
and Newton’s famous dictum “Hypotheses non fingo” is generally 



De^ey^s Theory of Natural Science [ iii ] 

understood to mean that he declined to entertain theories of any 
other type. The second type of theory, vanously called “micro- 
scopic,” “hypothetical” and “physical,” does by contrast explicitly 
postulate unobserveable particles, sub-microscopic processes, and 
mechanisms not open to direct observation, in terms of which the 
complex phenomena of gross experience are to be explained and 
understood. Familiar examples of this type of theory are the numer- 
ous atomic and electric theories of matter. 

It is by no means a closed issue whether the distinction between 
these two types of theory is either important or even weU-founded, 
though this question wiE not be pursued here any further. The 
relevance of this distinction for the present discussion is that it 
helps to make explicit the chief objection usually raised against the 
conception of scientific theory as being primarily an instrument for 
the conduct of inquiry. This conception is frequently acknowl- 
edged as illuminating and sound when it is stated for macroscopic 
theories. For in such theories no domain of events and individuals 
is postulated which is distinct from the events and objects en- 
countered in ordinary experience; and accordingly, the scientific 
objects assumed by such theories are easily construed as structures 
of relations between the materials of gross experience. But the situa- 
tion seems to be quite different in the case of microscopic theories. 
The impressive successes of atomic and electronic theories of matter 
in predicting and bringing into systematic order a wide variety of 
phenomena, have convinced a good fraction of contemporary scien- 
tists that the scientific objects postulated by theories of this type 
are more than systems of relations between familiar objects, and 
that on the contrary these scientific objects are concrete individuals, 
possessing spatio-temporal locations and participating in dynamic 
transactions with each other. Although it is generally admitted that 
these scientific objects lack most of the qualitative traits which 
mark off the familiar objects of experience, they are nevertheless 
believed to be physical constituents and parts of these latter. In 
brief, the scientific objects postulated by microscopic theories can- 
not, so the objection runs, be adequately regarded simply as con- 
ceptual means for organizing and analyzing the objects and events 
of gross experience. 

It must be acknowledged that on this point Dewey is not free 
from ambiguity. On the one hand, he repeatedly averts that scien- 



[ II2 ] Sovereign Reason 

tific objects are general modes of activity, that they are discursively 
elaborated formulations of connections noted in experience, that 
they are correlations between changes, or that they are generahza-- 
tions of existential conditions founded on a statistical basis. Careful 
readers of Dewey do not find it overly difficult to see the congru- 
ence between these various characterizations. But on the other hand 
he must cause discomfort even to a sympathetic reader when he 
writes of swarms of atoms and electrons moving rapidly, or of 
atoms giving rise to qualities of bitter and sweet. For surely, modes 
of activity, formulations, correlations, and the rest, cannot intelli- 
gibly be said to engage in motions, rapid or otherwise, or to give 
birth in time to sensory qualities. 

It is perhaps doubtful whether these apparent inconsistencies in 
Dewey’s statements can be reconciled; and the task will not even be 
attempted here. But something does need to be said in defense of 
his account of scientific objects against the critique which draws 
its ammunition from the prevalence of microscopic theories in mod- 
em physics. 

It must be noted, in the first place, that the interpretation of 
scientific objects as systems of relations between things encountered 
in ordinary experience and as generalized directives for analyzing 
empirical materials, is intended primarily if not exclusively to be 
an account of the status and function of scientific objects in the 
context of inquiry. And as has already been indicated, whatever 
else may be validly said about theories that postulate sub-microscopic 
particles and processes, this much at least can be asserted with war- 
rant— their role in inquiry is that of directives for handling observa- 
tional materials and of formulations which express systems of rela- 
tionships between such materials. For unless it were possible to 
connect such theories with things and events that are open to direct 
observation, the theories would contribute nothing to the resolution 
of the specific existential problems which generate them. The “hid- 
den’^ particles and processes postulated by theories of this type thus 
serve as intermediary and auxiliary termini in the formulation of a 
system of relationships whose ultimate termini are features of things 
identifiable in gross experience. Accordingly, the cognitive function 
in inquiry of the postulated elements in microscopic theories is 
that of links in a system of conceptual means for treating effectively 
objects in familiar experience. 



Dewey^s Theory of Natural Science [ 113 ] 

In the second place, there is good reason to believe that at least 
in some cases the postulated elements of microscopic theories are 
best conceived as complexes of relationships, rather than as con- 
crete individuals comparable with the substantial things of gross 
experience- This is not the occasion for arguing this point in detail 
or with reference to specific microscopic theories- However, it is 
at least worth noting that in the history of mathematics a similar 
conclusion has been repeatedly reached; for example, instead of 
construing complex numbers or the ‘‘imaginary” points of intersec- 
tion of curves as a distinctive and self-subsisting type of number or 
point, it has been found possible to view these postulated “entities” 
as relational structures between the more familiar integers or “real” 
points. A literal reading of the formulations of pure mathematics 
may therefore be a naive and misleading one, for such a reading may 
overlook the operative significance of what is being said. Siiriilarly, 
a literal reading of the language of modem quantum theory may 
also be misleading, especially since this theory often uses familiar 
modes of speech (for example, the expressions “particle” and “mo- 
mentum”) in senses that are explicitly recognized to be analogical 
and metaphorical. There is indeed an influential if not thoroughly 
consistent tendency among physicists to-day to dispense with in- 
terpretations of even microscopic theories in terms of pictorial 
models, and to see in the relations expressed by the pictorially 
neutral mathematical formalism the essential operative content of 
such theories. An example of this tendency is supplied by a recent 
commentator, himself a mathematical physicist, on the perplexities 
generated by the pictorial representation of light as both wave-like 
and corpuscular: “The picture of what is happening in an optical 
experiment can be construed in more than one way, and . . , dif- 
ferent pictures, although they require different methods of mathe- 
matical treatment, yield the same end-result for comparison with 
observational measures,” (Sir Edmund Whittaker, From Euclid to 
Eddington^ p. 138-) Accordingly, there is much in the actual prac- 
tice of modem physics to support the view that the postulated sci- 
entific objects of even microscopic theory should be taken to be pat- 
terns of relations rather than concrete individuals and processes. The 
conception of scientific objects as conceptual means for analyzing 
and comprehending the things encotmtered in experience in terms of 
their mutual relations, is thus not without a sound foundation. 



[ 1 14 ] Sovereign Reason 

Nonetheless, the possibility cannot be excluded, certainly not in 
a wholesale fashion or on apriori grounds, that the postulated ele- 
ments of microscopic theories may be concrete individuals, and that 
the detailed empirical evidence may warrant the conclusion that 
these elements are more than patterns of relations. Dewey’s con- 
cern with natural science has focussed primarily on issues of logic 
and method, and he has paid relatively little attention to this pos- 
sibility. His theory of scientific objects as simply conceptual means 
for the conduct of inquiry, can therefore not unjustly be charged 
with being an incomplete account of the nature and function of 
such objects. At the same time, it is worth noting that there is no 
incompatibility between maintaining that scientific objects function 
as conceptual tools in inquiry, and holding that in addition they play 
a role as elements in the executive order of nature. An incompatibility 
would be generated only if the former function of scientific objects 
were claimed to be their exclusive one. 

Dewey’s preoccupation with the instrumental role of scientific 
objects in inquiry is in part a consequence of his identification of 
knowledge as the outcome of inquiry into specific, individual exist- 
ential situations. When knowledge is so identified then, as he him- 
self notes, *‘The full and eventual reality of knowledge is carried in 
the individual case, not in general laws isolated from use in 
giving an individual case its meaning.” {Quest for Certainty^ p. 
208.) Indeed, though he recognizes that the word “knowledge” has 
many meanings, he maintains that in the sense he deliberately assigns 
to it, it has an especially liberal and humane meaning- 

It signifies events understood, events so discrlminately penetrated by 
thought that mind is literally at home in them. It means comprehension, 
or inclusive reasonable agreement. What is sometimes termed “applied” 
science, may then be more truly science than is what is conventionally 
called pure science. For it is directly concerned with not just instrumen- 
talities, but instrumentalities at work in effecting modifications of exist- 
ence in behalf of conclusions that are reflectively preferred. Thus con- 
ceived the characteristic subject-matter of knowledge consists of fulfilling 
objects, which as fulfillments are connected with a history to which 
they give character. Thus conceived, knowledge exists in engineering, 
medicine, and the social arts more adequately than it does in mathe- 
matics, and physics. Thus conceived, history and anthropology are 
scientific in a sense in which bodies of information that stop short with 
general formulae are not. {Experience and Nature^ pp. 161-162.) 

Once this standpoint is taken, almost everything Dewey has to say 



Denvey^s Theory of Natural Science [ 115 I 

about scientific objects is a direct consequence from it. But though 
the sense he selects for the word “knowledge” is not the expression 
of a personal whim or preference, and though his manner of iden- 
tifying knowledge is supported by the long history of men’s efforts 
to master their environment, it is also evident that from other stand- 
points other things may require to be said about scientific objects. 
For in the enterprise of science the word “knowledge” is frequently 
employed, as Dewey quite readily acknowledges, to refer not only 
to the outcome of inquiry into concrete individual affairs, but also 
to the theoretical vision of pervasive orders in nature which mquiry 
makes possible. An account of scientific objects which ascribes to 
them an instrumental role for achieving knowledge in one of the 
several senses of this word, clearly does not constitute a fully ade- 
quate contextualist analysis of their function and nature. 

6 . 

There are other philosophies than Dewey’s which seek to defend 
the objective reality of common-sense objects. But unlike most of 
them, Dewey does not achieve his aim by viewing the whole of 
nature in terms of distinctions that are known to be relevant only 
for the human scene. He does not offer a resolution of the standing 
problems of modern philosophy by clothing all of nature with 
antliropomorphic traits, or interpreting the course of cosmic events 
in terms of values that are of paramount concern only to men. The 
continuity between man and nature which modem theories of knowl- 
edge have helped to undermine and which Dewey wishes to estab- 
lish, does not obliterate fundamental differences between features 
that clearly characterize only human actions and those which are 
presumed to be common to all things without exception. Whatever 
else it may or may not achieve, Dewey’s philosophy of science does 
not offer a view of things that is more obfuscating than the one it 
wishes to replace. It is a genuine contribution to the clarification 
of a basic human enterprise. 

However, in spite of the brilliant dialectical skill with which 
Dewey develops his interpretation of science, and notwithstanding 
the substantial evidence that the history of science provides for it, 
it cannot be claimed that his views on this subject have won general 
assent. The difficulties of his literary style are notorious, and have 
handicapped even first-rate minds in their attempt to penetrate to 



[ ii6 ] Sovereign Reason 

the essentials of his philosophy. Moreover, his theory of logic is in 
ejffect and by implication a serious intellectual threat to social views 
whose chief support is tradition and authority; and it would be 
utopian to suppose that antecedent ideological commitments on the 
part of his readers have not played a role in their evaluation of his 
conception of science. 

But there are also less external reasons for the hesitations which 
even those in full sympathy with Dewey’s aims and over-all con- 
clusions have experienced with his account of natural science. The 
great William Harvey is reported to have said of Francis Bacon 
that he wrote about science like a Lord Chancellor. Of Dewey it 
can be said with equal justice that he writes about natural science 
like a philosopher, whose understanding of it, however informed, 
is derived from second-hand sources. With rare exceptions, the il- 
lustrations he supplies for his major theses on the nature of physical 
science and its method come from every-day inquiries of a fairly 
elementary kind, or from popularized versions of the achievements 
of theoretical physics. It is indeed curious that a thinker who has 
devoted so much effort to clarifying the import of science as has 
Dewey, should exhibit such a singular imconcem for the detailed 
articulation of physical theory. His writings often give the impres- 
sion that however sound his views on the status of scientific objects 
may be, they have been arrived at by apriori reasoning from general 
assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge which he takes to 
be warranted on other grounds. He does not use the language cus- 
tomary in discussions of scientific objects, possibly because he be- 
lieves this language to be so burdened with traditional associations 
that in employing it one become hopelessly entangled in the pre- 
conceptions of dubious epistemologies. In any event, however, the 
general absence from his writings of detailed analyses of specific 
theoretical constructions, as well as his tendency to introduce dis- 
tinctions that are not fully explained, have contributed to the feel- 
ing of inconclusiveness which many of his readers share. 

There is a disparaging sense, moreover, in which Dewey has been 
a lone wolf in the formulation of his ideas on science. His central 
views are in close agreement with conceptions that have been devel- 
oped during the past half-century by eminent physicists concerned 
with the methodology of their discipline. Nevertheless, though he 
is obviously familiar with many of these analyses, he does not appear 



Dewey^s Theory of Natural Science [ 117 ] 

to have been strongly influenced by them, and he cites them only 
rarely. But what is more to the point, he does not use these specialized 
and expert studies to the best advantage in his own discussions; and 
he employs home-grown arguments and formulations even where 
more convincing ones are readily available. This tendency no doubt 
contributes to the freshness of what Dewey has to say; but it also 
serves to isolate him from important and allied contemporary 
streams in the philosophy of science. 

It is not easy to escape the conclusion— a judgment which is per- 
haps true of all philosophic ventures— that Dewey’s discussion of 
the relation of physics to ordinary experience constitutes a program 
of work to be done rather than a systematically complete analysis; 
and Dewey is probably the last man on earth to suppose that nothing 
further remains to be said on the subject. But it is a program which 
is accompanied by a refreshingly sane and wise perspective on 
things, a clarifying conception of the significance of science, and 
a wealth of brilliant apercus. In stating it, he has succeeded in show- 
ing beyond reasonable doubt that the traditional and fatal antithesis 
between science and ordinary experience is gratuitous, and he has 
thereby helped to remove some of the intellectual obstacles to the 
expansion of science and to the consequent enhancement of human 
life. In stating it, he has also entrusted to those who must succeed 
him in the endless task of criticism which is philosophy, an objective 
for whose realization the best energies of thinking men would not 
be misspent. 



7 

Dewey's Reconstruction of Logical Theory 


I. 

Since the turn of the present century Dewey’s thought has been 
Steadily preoccupied with the character and conditions of controlled 
inquiry; and he has no less insistently claimed that the elimination 
of many of the contemporary confusions in morals, the sciences of 
man, and social policy, calls for a reconstruction of logical theory. 
He himself records that his early interest in logic was stimulated 
by the intellectual scandal involved in the common separation of 
science from morals; and he attributes his development of instru- 
mentalism to his conviction that ‘^‘the construction of a logic, that 
is, a method of elfective inquiry, which would apply without abrupt 
breach of continuity to the fields designated by both of these words, 
is at once our needed theoretical solvent and the supply of our 
greatest practical want”^ 

I. Contemporary American Philosophy (edited by Geo. P. Adams and 
Wm. P. Montague), VoL H, p. 25. 

[nSl 



Deavey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ 

Dewey has, however, not only repeatedly called for the recon- 
struction of the theory of inquiry, but has himself proposed such 
a reconstruction. Whether as a consequence the confusions to which 
he has called attention will m the future be less frequent, is prob- 
lematic. In any case, we still have with us uncriticised preferences 
masquerading as authoritative values, force parading as reasonable- 
ness, dogmatic appeals to the self-evidence of certain goods and 
norms offered as the essence of wisdom, arbitrary juxtapositions of 
factual material presented as social science, or the formulation of 
goals without consideration of the mechanisms required to imple- 
ment them as significant social planning. 

Nevertheless, there has been a change in the intellectual atmos- 
phere since the turn of the century, and only the ignorant would 
maintain that Dewey has had no influence in effecting it. We are 
less willing than before to appraise the merits of economic and 
social proposals without calculating their probable consequences, 
and without controlling their possible issues by painstaking factual 
evidence. We are suspicious both of large-scale generalizations in 
social theory and history which are supported primarily by appeals 
to alleged necessities of thought, and also of statistical and other 
factual studies which are not controlled by clearly formulated theo- 
retical assumptions grounded in ascertained facts. We are less easily 
taken in by the claims of scientific workers that their most recent 
conclusions are revelations of a final reality, or that the problems 
of society and morals must be conceived and resolved in terms of 
the specialized findings of some branch of physics. We are no less 
sceptical of philosophers who dismiss the specific conclusions of the 
sciences as not being genuine cases of knowledge and as not being 
relevant to our understanding of nature; and we do not find plausible 
their claims to a more profound and more certain theory of the 
universe than emerges from the detailed studies of the sciences, if 
it is not supported by the type of investigation which we identify 
as scientific method. We are not so easily deceived or frightened by 
statements supported by scientific or philosophical authorities that 
nature is nothing but a dance of atoms or electrons, that it is nothing 
but the manifestation of spirit, that it is something intrinsically 
unknowable, that human experience is nothing but an appearance, 
or that the nature of things in general places some interdiction or 
special blessing upon social change. We have become conscious of 



[ 120 ] Sovereign Reason 

how easy it is to transpose distinctions in one context to other con- 
texts in which they have no ascertainable sense, and we have learned 
to estimate the meaning and validity of propositions in terms of their 
function and operative role in determinate situations. In short, we 
are conscious of having at our disposal an effective instrument of 
criticism, a set of logical principles in terms of which claims to 
knowledge may be approximately adjudicated, and in terms of which 
programs of action may be controlled. 

It is not easy for anyone who has not himself lived through the 
great intellectual changes of the past half-century to estimate just 
how much of this instrument of criticism is directly the product of 
Dewey’s thought. Other influences than those coming from his 
writings have played upon the contemporary scene, and Dewey 
would be the last one to maintain that he owes nothing to his intel- 
lectual predecessors and contemporaries. Moreover, to many a 
reader brought up in the intellectual atmosphere created at least in 
part by Dewey, Dewey’s books contain much that now seems com- 
mon-place and matter-of-course, and, like Shakespeare and the 
Bible, appear to be full of good quotations. Dewey is now part of 
our common intellectual heritage, though not everything he has 
taught has found common acceptance. Accordingly, the freshness 
and historical significance of his approach to logical theory can best 
be recovered and understood by placing it in the context of the 
problems which demanded a reconstruction of logic. 

Dewey has explained that with the break-up of the medieval in- 
tellectual synthesis, due largely to the rise of modem science and 
its mathematical and experimental techniques, new systems of logic 
were launched which attempted to formulate the conditions and 
the methods found successful in achieving credible and warranted 
beliefs. However, “there soon appeared a division which, while 
technical in outer appearance, may be said to have had an almost 
tragic eflFect upon the intellect of the western world. This was the 
split between those who appealed exclusively to experience in the 
form of sense perception as the source of valid beliefs and those 
who appealed to reason in the form of mathematical concepts as the 
ultimate authority.”^ But while in the natural sciences this dualism 
of sense and reason was harmoniously solved in the actual practice 
and the habits of scientific workers, the resolution of the difficulty 


2. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences^ Vol. 9, p. 601* 



Dewey^s Keconstruction of Logical Theory [ 121 ] 

did not receive a coherent theoretical formulation. In consequence, 
the split had a disastrous import for the still embryomc sciences of 
man and society, where the method of reason and the method of 
experience vied with each other for exclusive control and success- 
ively dominated research— with the consequence that these disci- 
plines remamed barren of warranted conclusions and contributed 
controversy rather than illumination to the pressing problems of 
modem society. Accordingly, a reconstmcted logical theory is 
needed. This logic must generalize the acknowledged methods of 
the natural sciences— methods which in practice harmoniously unite 
observation, theoretical construction, mathematical reasoning, and 
experimental verification— and must exhibit the traditional separa- 
tion of sense and reason as theoretically unwarranted. The recon- 
structed logic will thus insist that “ideas and principles must be 
employed to deal overtly and actively with ‘facts’ if, on one side, 
the facts are to be significant and if, on the other, ideas and theories 
are to receive test and verification. Experimental logic would resolve 
the controversy, now four centuries old, between reason and sense 
experience, by making both concepts and facts elements in and 
instruments of intelligently controlled action.”® 

If this has been the goal of a reconstructed logic— a reasonable 
goal, it will seem to many— why has it not already been achieved 
and what obstacles have stood in its way? Other men in other gen- 
erations have been preoccupied with problems of intellectual method, 
and it may seem strange that it should have remained for our 
period to attempt the theoretical synthesis of these contending 
claimants to intellectual authority. The answer in this case as in 
many others of like kind is historical, and points to the accumula- 
tion of specific scientific findings in our own age which have been 
absent in previous ones, 

One hundred fifty years ago a great philosopher could maintain 
that since Greek antiquity logic has not had to retrace a single 
step nor been able to make any further advance, so that, accordingly, 
logic was complete and perfect. In the light of the intense activity 
during the past three generations in correcting and expanding the 
content of logical theory beyond recognition by its founders, this 
estimate is a curiosity; it supplies more hints concerning the philo- 


3. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 9, p. 605. 



[ 122 ] Sovereign Reason 

sophical outlook of the men of the eighteenth century than about 
the subject concerning which it was made. Indeed, there is no 
reason to suppose that, granted a favorable cultural milieu, such an 
intense activity in logical researches will not continue indefinitely 
into the future. Why then did a man of unusually shrewd intelli- 
gence and learning, and why do some of our own contemporaries 
with perhaps no less intelligence, commit themselves to such an 
appraisaP 

To many reflective minds of the eighteenth century the New- 
toman conception of nature seemed to be the paradigm upon which 
every rational science must be modeled, and to whom the Newtonian 
theory of science constituted the set of necessary principles for 
acquiring, ordering, and interpreting all knowledge. The geometry 
of Euclid and the mechanics of Newton were the only familiar 
systems of deductive mathematics, the properties of things capable 
of formulation in the then existing mathematics were taken to be 
the sole objective properties of things, and the limitations and de- 
fects of known mathematical techniques were assumed to mark 
off the inherent boundaries of human reason. It was, accordingly, 
a period much concerned with discovering the logical foundations 
for allegedly indubitable truths concerning the physical world and 
our powers of apprehending them, and with constructing an intel- 
lectual foundation for moral and esthetic judgments so as to render 
them congruous with the logical and physical assumptions of the 
natural sciences. Lack of knowledge of alternative comprehensive 
mathematical and physical systems was construed as evidence of 
their impossibility, and the contemporary achievements of the 
sciences were riveted into the final structure of nature and reason. 
Biology, moreover, was still largely a classificatory discipline. The 
physiological and animal basis of human thought was only dimly 
understood, and human reason, occurring in a world conceived in 
terms of the specific categories of the dominant physics, was set off 
sharply from the humbler practices of the common arts. Given the 
conceptions which dominated the sciences of the day, given the 
sense of finality and certainty with respect to the conclusions of the 
physics of the day, it is not strange that logical theory itself should 
have been regarded as perfect and as immune to modification. And 
to the extent that contemporary thinkers are still dominated by 
philosophies devised as intellectual bases for sciences so conceive^ 



Dewey's Reconstmctio 7 i of Logical Theory [ 123 ] 

it is understandable why they also should formulate similar opin- 
ions as to the proper content of logical theory. 

Withm seventy-five years, however, the intellectual scene w’^as 
already shiftmg, and the renaissance of logical research was begun. 
Leading the van of the events which stimulated the growth of newer 
conceptions of knowledge and nature were the achievements of 
the mathematicians. They discovered new systems of geometry 
which were consistent alternatives to the ancient discipline, and 
thus challenged the authority of theories of knowledge which granted 
exclusive validity to the system of Euclid in particular and assumed 
the possibility of apodictic knowledge of existential matters in gen- 
eral. They invented and systematized new forms of algebra and 
new^ techniques of analysis, which gradually undermined dogmatic 
appeals to self-evidence as criteria of factual as well as mathematical 
truth; and they thus called attention to the fundamental role which 
symbolic operations play in the development of deductive systems 
and m the attainment of knowledge of matters of fact. No less sig- 
nificant was the growing aw^areness of the limitations of traditional 
canons of formal validity. Mathematicians and mathematically 
trained students of formal logic soon developed algebraic algorithms 
w’^hich were startlingly effective constructive and critical devices 
for handhng complicated types of deductions such as occur in mathe- 
matics-deductions which were not easily treated by traditional 
methods; and they soon established the fact that the restriction of 
formal logic to the theory of the syllogism, the conception of formal 
mathematics as the science of simple quantities, and the isolation and 
theoretical separation of the techniques of formal logic from those 
of mathematics were unwarranted prejudgments. Mathematicians 
and formal logicians thus constructed impressive intellectual tools 
that served a double end: on the one hand, they became means for 
the development of comprehensive sciences of nature which were 
to challenge the claims made for existing theories as the only con- 
ceivable ones; and on the other hand, they supplied crucial evidence 
for testing the adequacy of conceptions of knowledge and inquiry. 

These developments in the formal sciences went hand in hand 
with those in the physical disciplines. It was discovered before long 
that the specific categories of Newtonian mechanics had only a 
limited applicability. For the task of bringing into systematic order 
vast ranges of phenomena (those studied, for example, in optics, 



[ 124 ] Sovereign Reason 

electricity, or thermodynamics), required the introduction of char- 
acteristic modes of analysis which differed in important ways from 
those employed by Newton. The theory of probability, heretofore 
used almost exclusively only in connection with games of chance 
and errors of observation, now came to be employed as an integral 
part of physical theories themselves, and was extended with some 
success to the study of social statistics. In consequence, the older 
conceptions and formulations of the ideals and logical structure of 
scientific knowledge were given a critical overhauling. It was seen 
that the assumptions of classical physics were not universal necessi- 
ties of nature but were only somewhat parochial principles of 
analysis suitable for handling a limited type of material; and it was 
shown that at least in some cases what were previously assumed to 
be inherent necessities of reason were simply the analytic conse- 
quences of adopting one of several alternative techniques of meas- 
urement. These innovations in the natural sciences, as well as the 
growing abstractness and non-descriptive character of physical 
concepts, led to an intense concern with the relation of theory to 
every-day experience; and outstanding workers in the sciences them- 
selves contributed illximinating studies on the links connecting theo- 
retical formulations in the sciences with the familiar materials and 
activities of every-day observation* It became evident, for example, 
that though physics was abstract, physical theories were not ab- 
stracted from sensory qualities; and it also became apparent that if 
the meaning of theories was to be understood, that understanding 
was not achieved by regarding them as photographic reports of 
some hidden reality. In general, therefore, theoretical formulations 
were recognized as intellectual constructions devised for specific 
ends, so that their meaning and validity must be determined within 
the specific contexts in which they were introduced— in terms of 
the operations (observational, experimental, and mathematical) rele- 
vant to their normal functioning. By increasing our knowledge and 
by suggesting alternative possibilities of formulation and analysis, 
these developments in modem science and mathematics have had 
the effect of travel in broadening the mind and freeing it from local 
and traditional prejudices. Accordingly, any conception of knowl- 
edge and inquiry which cannot square itself with these develop- 
ments— any logic which demands, for example, indubitable first- 
principles and incorrigible conclusions of inquiry— cannot consti- 



De^ey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ 125 ] 

tute an adequate novum organum for guiding and criticizing 
scientific research. 

The perhaps inevitable scepticism and agnosticism which might 
have become pervasive as a consequence of these intellectual changes, 
was counteracted by the impact of evolutionary biology upon con- 
ceptions of logic and knowledge. Thinkers who took seriously the 
emphasis of modem biology upon the genesis of human functions 
from an animal basis and upon their role in adapting the organism 
and its environment to each other, found it impossible to hold that 
human reasoning powers did not also have a history, or that the 
rational faculties do not also have an adaptive function. They found 
it implausible to believe that the latest conclusions of the sciences 
were the final ones, that the human orgamsm was just the passive 
recipient of impulses from the physical world, or that scientific 
research and its outcome were not themselves at least partly instru- 
mental in the process of biological and social adjustment. But these 
supposals, instead of leading to scepticism as to the possibility of 
knowledge, can readily engender a contrary effect. For if thought 
is a biological process, the outcome of thought is adequate to its 
object to the extent that it permits a more satisfactory adaptation 
of organism and environment. If the present instmmentalities for 
acquiring knowledge did not emerge full-grown with the beginning 
of the race, but are the products of historical trials and errors, their 
validity and adequacy must be construed and tested in terms of the 
success with which they make possible an adjustment between or- 
ganic needs and physical environment. And if knowledge, conceived 
in the fashion of an infallible grasp of final truths without the medi- 
ation of overt organic activity, is not something which modem 
science supplies, then knowledge must be conceived in such a way 
that it is just the sort of thing scientific methods do achieve. Thus 
one important consequence of modem biology upon conceptions 
of logic has been the rejection of an antecedent or apriori definition 
of knowledge, and the substitution for it of something which can 
be identified as the product of an identifiable procedure. More gen- 
erally, modem evolutionary biology supplied fresh clues for resolv- 
ing the dualisms between mind and nature, or reason and sense. For 
according to it, mind is to be construed not as a mysterious power 
capable of grasping with finality the structure of a world ahen to 
it, but as a specific mode of behavior of organic beings in various 



[ 126] Sovereign Reason 

contexts. In consequence, human thought appears as continuous 
with the physical and biological activity of bodies, and the recon- 
structive and inventive powers of reason are grounded in the compli- 
cated mechanisms of the human orgamsm. It thus became possible 
to regard the events and qualities occurring in the human scene as 
much as the products of natural processes, and as genuine clues to 
the structures and mechanisms of nature, as are the objects discov- 
ered or postulated in the science of physics. 

This rough inventory of the fresh materials thrown up by almost 
a century of research supplies the background for the reconstruction 
of logical theory which Dewey has offered. Some of this material 
began to influence his thought only at later periods of his devel- 
opment. Accordingly, his attempts to work into one coherent theo- 
retical formulation the instrumentalities of modem science exhibit 
shifting stresses—shifts which reflect the impact of new and fre- 
quently unconnected contributions to methods of inquiry upon a 
mind sensitive to the complexity of his subject. He once confessed 
that he appeared to himself as “unstable, chameleon-like, yielding 
one after another to many diverse and even incompatible influences; 
struggling to assimilate something from each and yet striving to 
carry it forward in a way that is logically consistent with what has 
been learned from its predecessors.”^ The shifts in Dewey’s thought, 
examined in terms of the specific influences which played upon him, 
would be the study not only of an individual thinker but of a period. 


2 . 

What then, granting this background and omitting technical de- 
tails, are the outstanding features of Dewey’s conception of logic^ 
i) Perhaps the most characteristic trait of Dewey’s reconstructed 
logic is the setting or context he supplies for the consideration of 
logical distinctions and principles. He takes for granted that reflec- 
tive thinking is an activity which can be identified as genuinely as 
can the interplay of physical and chemical forces; and he assumes 
as a hypothesis that it is an activity which occurs only when some 
felt dilEculty (theoretical or practical) in a situation calls it forth 
as an instrament for its resolution. All of Dewey’s specific analyses 
are thus tacitly based upon an appraisal of the history of men’s 
efforts to achieve satisfactory solutions of their problems, and upon 


4. Contemporary American Fhihsophy, Vol, H, p. 22. 



Denjoey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ 127 ] 

a comparative study and evaluation of different generalized methods 
men have used in removing obstacles to smoothly flowing activities. 
Methods of inquiry are accordingly not private, individual affairs. 
Judgment of their soundness requires the study of human history 
in order to determine which of the methods actually employed 
have, in the long run, been satisfactory in the resolution of diffi- 
culties. Dewey’s conception of logical theory is an immediate 
corollary from this initial identification of its subject-matter: ‘‘if 
thinking is the way m which deliberate reorganization of experi- 
ence is secured, then logic is such a clarified and systematized formu- 
lation of the procedures of thinking as will enable the desired 
reconstruction to go on more economically and efficiently.”® 

In consequence, to those who identify logical theory with formal 
logic, Dewey’s claim to the title of logician has never seemed appro- 
priate, and he has been adjudged by many as simply a descriptive 
anthropologist or psychologist. It is not profitable to quarrel about 
labels, but it is worth remarking that if, for example, Dewey’s writ- 
ings are classified as belonging to anthropology, the content of this 
discipline must be enlarged beyond its usual bounds. For though the 
situations in which, according to him, logical distinctions are rele- 
vant are situations of inquiry and therefore of human activity, his 
attention is directed upon what the operations of logic contribute 
to the specific goal of inquiry (that is, to the controlled resolution 
of problems). His concerns are therefore evaluative rather than 
descriptive. If Dewey’s logical theory runs the danger of being 
confused with psychology, he gladly takes the risk because he is 
concerned with specifying in just what contexts the familiar logi- 
cal operations (e.g,, definition, classification, deduction, etc.) are 
valuable and vahd. It is essential to specify these contexts in order 
to prevent an unwarranted transference of those values and norms 
to other contexts. For indication of the situations in which logical 
devices are actually employed closes the door to interpretations of 
the identifiable functions of logical principles in ways not relevant 
to, or not compatible with, their identifiable operative roles in 
inquiry. 

Dewey’s insistence upon construing the meaning of logical oper- 
ations in terms of their specific functions in the context of inquiry 
is one of his most illuminating insights, though at the same time it 

5. Recomtruction in Philosophy, p. 134. 



[ 128 ] Sovereign Reason 

has been the source of most of the criticisms that have been levelled 
at him. Consider, for example, the distinct but related roles he 
assigns to sensory observation and reasoning— thereby harmoniously 
resolving the dualism which has been one motivation for his recon- 
struction of logic. The occurrence of qualitative perceptions, rev- 
eries, speculations and fancies in contexts other than that of inquiry 
is controlled by habit, chance circumstance, or native propensity. 
But within a reflective context the situation is otherwise. The nature 
of the problem in situations involving felt difficulties does not usu- 
ally spring into full view immediately, and must be sought for and 
identified. Observation then becomes controlled by suggestions or 
hypotheses, and sensory qualities are not received passively but are 
deliberately selected and isolated from a larger qualitative context. 
The identification of the problem is thus achieved neither by sub- 
cutaneous thought nor by random activity, but by overt activity 
controlled by ideas. Moreover, when the problem has been located, 
attempted solutions of it involve further controlled observation, 
instituted by hypotheses for the sake of obtaining factual evidence 
for them. Accordingly, sense and reason are cooperatively engaged 
throughout controlled inquiry. Perceptual material, gathered in the 
light of entertained suggestions, serves as means for locating the 
difficulty and supplies critical evidence for proposed solutions of 
it; ideas or hypotheses, without being simply abstracted from ma- 
terials of sense and without being self -authenticating, serve as plans 
of research, as ways of obtaining and ordering sensory material, and 
as suggestions for so rearranging existential material that the initial 
difficulty may disappear. The dualism of sense and reason is thus 
not an insoluble philosophical problem in inquiry. 

Consider again Dewey’s discussion of the role of those formal 
principles which in logic are usually characterized as necessary 
truths. They are shown by him to be capable of playing two roles: 
that of procedural principles, which state what conditions must be 
instituted in order to make unambiguous the reference of terms; 
and that of transformative rules for, or intermediary links in, opera- 
tions upon and with symbols. It is no doubt possible to interpret 
the necessary laws of logic as formulations of fundamental invari- 
ants of all nature, and the like. The pertinent question, however, 
is whether such interpretations are at all relevant for ascertaining 
the significance of such principles in the context of inquiry. It is 



Dewey^s Reconstructio?i of Logical Theory [ 129 ] 

Dewey’s singular merit to have shown that in this context the mani- 
fest function of these propositions constitutes their one identifiable 
meaning. The history of thought reveals a progressive diminution 
in the number of propositions which are assumed to be capable of 
demonstration without appeal to experiment and observation, but 
which nevertheless are claimed to formulate factual relations be- 
tween properties of things. Propositions belonging to the natural 
and social sciences are necessary and irrefutable by experience, it 
is now clear, only if , in a broad but identifiable sense, they are 
definitory; otherwise, they are contingent truths, corrigible by 
further inquiry. Only in logic and in some branches of mathematics 
does the claim continue that propositions in these disciplines rep- 
resent apriori knowledge of the structure of things. The analysis 
Dewey has made of necessary propositions may not finally dispose 
of the issue to the satisfaction of everyone. But his analysis does 
show at any rate that when the propositions of logic are construed 
in terms of their functions in inquiry, the claim that those proposi- 
tions formulate apriori truths about existence is entirely gratuitous. 

Or consider, as a final example, Dewey’s resolution of the oft- 
discussed question as to the “criteria” of truth. It is patently desir- 
able and important to have a method for identifying genuine cases 
of knowledge, and for distinguishmg between valid and spurious 
cognitive claims. To be sure, it may not be* possible to persuade a 
wholesale sceptic or dogmatist to recognize such a distinction. The 
distinction nevertheless is tacitly recognized when, for example, we 
accept as reliable the contents of an Ephemeris, but not the horo- 
scope of an astrologer. What, then, are the earmarks of knowledge 
that is authentic, and in what way does such knowledge differ from 
ungrounded belief? Philosophers have sought to answer such ques- 
tions by proposing various “theories” of truth, each of which os- 
tensibly supplies not only an analysis of what is the meaning of 
“truth” but also a criterion for distinguishing the true from the 
false. These alternate “theories” are, however, in sharp disagree- 
ment with one another; and what is more to the point, their pro- 
posed criteria of truth turn out to be quite irrelevant to the actual 
problems of inquiry. But whatever be the philosophical theory of 
truth that one may adopt, the validity of truth-claims is identified 
on the basis of whether or not the claims are products of com- 
petent inquiries. At any rate, this is Dewey’s view. He identifies 



[ 130 ] Sovereign Reason 

authentic knowledge (which he calls ‘'warranted assertibility”) as 
that which is achieved by an inquiry whose features conform to a 
determinate logical pattem—a pattern exhibited in those inquiries 
in the history of man which have shown themselves effective in 
obtaining solutions for the problems generating the investigations. 

However, anything identified as knowledge on the basis of being 
the product of such inquiries will embody the character of the 
logic employed. We must not expect that an assertion warranted 
by scientific method is above revision, for the method of science is 
not infallible. That method is, however, progressively self-cor- 
rective, and provides for the revision of its products in the hght of 
further controlled inquiry. The degree of confidence we are en- 
titled to have in an assertion is therefore a function of the thorough- 
ness with which we have tested it with the best methods available. 
We must, accordingly, rely on the integrity of the logical method 
we employ to secure dependable conclusions and to identify and 
distinguish the true from the false. There is no way of discovering 
what things are like before we have inquired into them, and there 
is no way of ascertaining the adequacy of a logical method before 
we have exercised it to reveal its powers and limitations. All con- 
ceivable methods of conducting inquiry have an equal apriori claim 
on our attention; but historical experience has taught us that not 
all methods are equally effective. If we do not wish to be constantly 
betrayed by claims to knowledge, we must institute modes of in- 
quiry in accordance with certain logical requirements. The general 
problem of truth, on Dewey’s view, is thus the problem of perfect- 
ing methods of inquiry which, in the long run, exhibit themselves 
as competent to do the job for which they are invented. 

2) It will now be apparent that on Dewey’s conception of logic, 
logical principles are formulations of conditions which must be in- 
stituted if an inquiry is to satisfy the conditions of being a con- 
trolled one. Accordingly, logical forms are understood by him to 
be identifiable traits which things and events acquire only upon 
entering inquiry and which things do not possess antecedently. 
This is a view which many thinkers have found too difficult to 
accept; and indeed it is a truistically false view if “logical form” 
is taken to designate certain structures of “facts” or statements, 
whose existence does not depend upon these elements entering the 
context of inquiry. What then is Dewey’s meaning? According to 



Dewey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ 131 ] 

him, things and qualities acquire functions in inquiry which they 
did not have antecedently to it, and the specifically distinct n2)ays in 
which things function in this context is just what he understands 
by logical form. For example, perceptual material in its sheer 
existential status does not have the logical form of being evidence, 
nor does the occurrence of an idea in revery have the status of a 
hypothesis— any more than a bear is always a target— except on the 
occasions when these items enter appropnate contexts involving 
specific types of activity. 

This way of looking upon the matter represents a self-conscious 
attempt to steer a median course between an empiricism for which 
logical traits are psychological, in the sense of being mental, and 
a realism for which logic sets apriori limits upon the characters of 
existence. Dewey’s conception of logic thus offers the alternative 
hypothesis, according to which logical forms are not mentalistic, 
and yet are traits of things (that is, modes of behavior) only when 
things are caught up in reflective inquiry and are subjected to the 
conditions required for inference. This conception supports the 
analysis of logical propositions as instrumental in reflective inquiry, 
because they are taken to specify the means for securing the con- 
ditions (that is, for installing the requisite logical forms) which will 
carry inquiry to a successful termination. 

It must be noted, however, that while logical principles are not 
formulations of relations between things independently of their oc- 
currence in inquiry, they are not arbitrary rules. On Dewey’s view, 
what the conditions are for satisfactory inquiry is a discovery about 
them, and is as much a discovery as that the human body needs food 
to survive or that sound requires a material medium for its trans- 
mission. In general, therefore, logical principles are just one special 
class of formulations which state the conditions or means for the 
attainment of ends or consequences. If the notion of logical prin- 
ciples as instruments or tools is taken seriously, their adequacy 
must evidently be contingent upon the character of the materials 
upon which they are employed and upon the objectives they are 
to attain; and there is no way of discovering whether they are 
indeed adequate until we have made the attempt to use them. Dewey 
is thus in agreement with all those who have maintained (sometimes 
in criticism of what they take to be his position) that in some sense 
principles of inquiry are grounded in the nature of things. They 



[ 132 ] Sovereign Reason 

are, for him, grounded in the requirements of controlled inquiries, 
which are manifestly matters of existence. But one must add that 
just as wood-pulp is not paper, and is potentially paper only in 
relation to determinate chemical transformations, so a segment of 
existence is not intrinsically evidence or datum, and it possesses 
such logical functions only in relation to the equally determinate 
operations of controlled inquiry. 

Dewey’s reconstruction of logic thus involves what has been 
called a genetic approach, so that, consequently, teleological cate- 
gories are prominent in his theory. He has evaluated logical methods 
in terms of a natural history of knowledge, and he has been con- 
cerned with their efficacy in transforming ignorance and error into 
warrantable and reliable science. He has accordingly tried to under- 
stand the refined instruments of intellectual analysis as devices 
having their origin in the activities of biological organisms coping 
with their environment, and as factors contributing to the achieve- 
ment of specific socio-biological ends. Inquiry is thus a genetic 
process, having natural beginnings and endings, and the continuum 
of inquiries supplies the materials for appraising the meaning and 
the worth of the mechanisms involved in achieving those ends. On 
Dewey’s view, therefore, the "^justification” of logical methods must 
always be given on historical grounds, and not on grounds which 
derive their authority from anterior criteria of validity. And in 
consonance with his identification of logical operations as factors 
in a process, his analysis of them is in terms of the general functions 
they perform in that process. This, perhaps, is the heart of his logi- 
cal theory, 

Dewey’s genetic approach has, however, brought him the re- 
reproach that his theory is based on the genetic fallacy. It is certainly 
a confusion to mistake questions of temporal origin or temporal 
order with questions of adequacy and validity; and, regrettably, 
Dewey has sometimes argued, or at least given the appearance 
of so arguing, that the validity of previous logical systems may 
be determined on the basis of the character of the historical 
period during which they originated. But the use of the ge- 
netic method does not necessarily involve the commission of the 
genetic fallacy. It is a fallacy to declare that the theory of the syllo- 
gism is faulty because it was first formulated at a time when detailed 
knowledge of mathematics and physics was inferior to our own; 



Dewey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ 133 ] 

but it is not a fallacy to insist that the adequacy of this theory as 
an instrument of inquiry and criticism must be estimated in terms 
of how it has hindered or advanced the pursuit of knowledge 
throughout its history. Nor is it a fallacy to maintain, on the ground 
that knowledge is the product of inquiry, that the logical worth of 
a conclusion must be evaluated in terms of the methods employed 
to reach and test it; for a statement considered apart from the evi- 
dence for it is not a conclusion at all, and cannot be assigned any 
cognitive status. 

In general, therefore, the validity of a belief is not determined 
by its origin. But if a belief, taken as the conclusion of controlled 
inquiry, involves a prior reconstruction of experience, and if a 
belief, to be rightly understood, requires an understanding of the 
methods of testing and criticising it, then its meaning as well as its 
validity can not be rendered without reference to the procedures 
of which it is a product. We mislead ourselves if we suppose that 
we understand what a physicist tells us about the latent energies 
of atomic nuclei or what a biologist tells about the structure of 
chromosomes, if we neglect the contexts in which such statements 
have relevance and if we are ignorant of the operations in terms of 
which nuclei and chromosomes are defined and identified. For it is 
not knowledge but images that we then possess. 

3) A logical theory is not complete if it does not provide some 
guide to the understanding and appraisal of the refined conclusions 
of modem theoretical science. The logical issues involved are rele- 
vant for the consideration of scientific theories at almost any stage 
of scientific development; but a guide is particularly important at 
a time when new developments in sub-atomic physics and in cos- 
mology have given rise to amazingly contradictory philosophic 
interpretations of them. For example, some writers appraise the 
latest theories of science as disclosures of an ultimate reality, incom- 
patible with the reality of the familiar human scene; others construe 
them as simply convenient fictions with no firm standing in the 
order of nature; and still others offer intricate variations upon these 
themes. 

Dewey's approach, however, challenges the relevance of such 
interpretations for the understanding of scientific theories, by 
simply considering the function of theories in the specific contexts 
in which they are cognitively employed. He finds no difficulty in 



[ 134 ] Sovereign Reason 

showing, for example, that neither in pure research nor in the appli- 
cation of theoretical physics to problems of technology does the 
issue ever arise whether physics has located an ultimate reality or 
not. He has no more difficulty in concluding that to ask whether 
a theory is fictional or not assumes a prior conception of reality— 
a conception formulated antecedent to the findings of specific 
inquiries, and which therefore has no cognitive worth. 

But his fundamental criticism of these interpretations is that they 
misconceive the function of theories and fail to study them in their 
identifiable roles in research and apphcation. These interpretations 
are predicated on the assumption that it is the business of a theory 
to offer a description or photographic picture of some segment of 
nature. But a contextual analysis which pays attention to a theory’s 
function in inquiry shows, that on the contrary, the business of a 
theory is to organize inquiries, to make possible extensive correla- 
tions of measurable properties of things, and to suggest ways of 
introducing experimental action so as to resolve the specific prob- 
lems of inquiry. The electrons postulated by a theory are defined 
exclusively by that theory, and are defined in such a way that 
they have none of the familiar qualities of objects in daily experi- 
ence; electrons are thus a set of complicated relations between meas- 
urable traits of things, and in inquiry at any rate they can be assigned 
no reality prior or superior to that of common objects of experience. 
As Dewey points out, 

That heat is a mode of motion does not signify that heat and cold as 
qualitatively experienced are “unreal,” but that the qualitative experience 
can be treated as an event measured in terms of units of velocity of move- 
ment, involving units of positions and time, so that it can be connected 
with other events or changes similarly formulated. . . . The resolution 
of objects and nature as a whole into facts stated exclusively in terms 
of quantities which may be handled in calculation, such as saying that 
red is such a number of changes while green is another, seems strange 
and puzzling only when we fad to appreciate what it signifies. In reality, 
it is a declaration that this is the effective way to think things; the effec- 
tive mode in which to frame ideas of them, to formulate their meanings, 
. . . Since these correlations are what physical inquiry does know, it is 
fair to conclude that they are what it intends or means to know.^ 

The elimination of qualities from the theoretical formulations 
of physics does not therefore eliminate them from existence; and 


6. The Quest for Certainty^ pp. 1 29-1 34. 



Dewey's Reco 7 istruction of Logical Theory [ 135 ] 

while science renders more perfect the cognitive experiencing of 
things, knowledge is not the exclusive mode of experiencing. Ac- 
cordingly, even if it were possible-which by definition it is not 
—to have a qualitative experience of electrons, we would not thereby 
know them any better or more profoundly than we do at present. 

The bearing of his conception of logic upon the interpretation of 
science is summed by Dewey himself too clearly to require peri- 
phrasis. 

There is something both ridiculous and disconcerting in the way in 
which men have let themselves be imposed upon, so as to infer that 
scientific ways of thinking of objects give the inner* reality of things, 
and that they put a mark of spuriousness upon all other ways of think- 
ing of them, and of perceiving and enjoying them. It is ludicrous because 
these scientific conceptions, like other instruments, are hand-made by 
man in pursuit of realization of a certain interest— that of the maximum 
of convertibility of every object of thought into any and every other. 
It is a wonderful ideal; the ingenuity which man has shown in devising 
means of realizing the interest is even more marvelous. But these ways 
of thinking are no more rivals of or substitutes for objects as directly 
perceived and enjoyed than the power-loom, which is a more efiecuve 
instrument for weaving cloth than was the old hand-loom, is a substitute 
and rival for cloth. The man who is disappomted and tragic because he 
cannot wear a loom is in reality no more ridiculous than are the persons 
who feel troubled because the objects of scientific conceptions of natu- 
ral things have not the same uses and values as the tmngs of direct 
experience.'^ 

3 - 

* These, in outline, are some of the central themes in Dewey’s 
logical theory. It is an impressive performance, whatever be the final 
judgment passed on the validity of the plan or the details of his 
reconstruction. But it is only fair to say that Dewey has not been 
the first to venture a unified picture of controlled inquiry. The 
nineteenth century— to restrict mention to the period during which 
Dewey came to intellectual maturity— witnessed several attempts to 
formulate comprehensive accounts of the principles of evidence and 
of the road which the mind travels in order to achieve reliable 
beliefs; and Dewey has not hesitated to acknowledge his profound 
indebtedness to most of them. But for various reasons they suffer 
from limitations which make them inadequate as accounts of the 
subject with which they presumably are concerned— either because 


7. Ibid^ p. i5<S. 



[ 136 ] Sovereign Reason 

they are based on a sensationalistic, pre-Darwinian psychology; 
or because they show insufficient understanding of the role of 
mathematical and experimental techniques; or because the full 
significance for logic of scientific advances was not apparent at 
the time they were written, or because, finally, since they were 
undertaken with a frequently avowed philosophical arriere-pensee^ 
they failed to appraise and integrate logical principles in terms of 
meanings assigned to them on the basis of their identifiable func- 
tions in recognizable contexts of inquiry. But in any case, something 
has been learned since then about the subject-matter of logical 
theory; and every age must rewrite its logic as it does its history. 
There is, indeed, already a sense in which Dewey’s own work 
is outmoded. For some of his analyses are directed upon issues which 
dominated thinkers of the precedmg century— problems which, 
though intelligible enough in terms of the scientific, religious, and 
social conceptions then current, have lost much of their meaning 
and relevance for the contemporary reader. It is doubtless important 
to realize that man is an animal and that his rational powers are 
extensions of more rudimentary biological functions. But the mod- 
ern reader will be willing to take that for granted, and he will sus- 
pect the generalized reconstructions of this genesis which are not 
based upon specific experimental findings, and which, even if co- 
herent and cogent, leave him not one whit wiser as to the detailed 
mechanisms involved. It is illuminating to be told that experience is 
not constructed out of atomic sensations, and that the inquiring mind 
is not simply the passive recipient of external stimuli. But many 
contemporaries have learned that lesson, and they are eager for 
new ones. They are impressed as weU as puzzled by the compli- 
cated theories of modem physical science as well as by the difficul- 
ties of social science and politics; and they are eager to master a 
technique which could unravel for them the detailed logical struc- 
ture of assumptions and procedures upon which these theories rest, 
and to see the method of intelligence at work in concrete applica- 
tions. To such readers, at any rate, Dewey does not supply all they 
are looking for in a logical theory, though he does supply them with 
an integral vision of the work to be done and of the conditions 
under which it is to be carried on. The Dewey they find inspiring 
and rewarding is the Dewey who has insisted, by precept and 
example, that a contextual (or functional, or operational) analysis 



Dewey^s Reconstructiofi of Logical Theory [ 137 ] 

of concepts and principles is the only illuminating and adequate 
one. On this central issue Dewey has set for them a standard toward 
which to strive, not only in various details of his specific logical 
analyses, but m a half a dozen other fields as well: in his clarifying 
discussions of the reflex-arc concept, of corporate personality, of 
the public, of the relation between the fine and useful arts, of 
means and ends, and of freedom and democracy, to cite only a 
few examples. 

It is also only just to add that Dewey has contributed next to 
nothing to the important recent literature concerned with the con- 
ditions of formal validity or with the techniques for developing the 
implications, the inter-relations, and the consistency of formal sys- 
tems. Indeed, a strikingly large proportion of his logical writings 
consists of sharp polemics against those whom he calls “formalists.^’ 
Though he is often just in his remarks upon the less cautious expres- 
sions of the achievements of modem symbolic logic (and especially 
upon the dubious epistemological use and foundation that Russell 
has given them), it is frequently difiicult to resist the conviction 
that he has underestimated the significance for his own conception 
of logical theory of these achievements, or that he has been unwit- 
tingly flogging a dead horse. He has himself stated that his own 
development “has been controlled largely by a struggle between a 
native inclination toward the schematic and formally logical, and 
those incidents of personal experience that compelled me to take 
account of actual material.”® However this may be, it is a matter 
for genuine regret that such a considerable part of his logical recon- 
struction has been carried on without the aid of the rigorous formal 
techniques now in existence, or without a more circumspect and pre- 
cise formulation of the distinctions required by his theory which 
those techniques might have enabled him to give. 

But although much of Dewey’s writing is controversial— directed 
against almost all historical and contemporary schools of thought— 
his use of the polemic illustrates that socialized, cooperative method 
of science for which he is a spokesman and a pleader. For he has 
been willing to leam from the subject-matter under discussion as 
well as from the reflections of others; and his polemic, introduced 
in the midst of first-hand reports on phases of scientific method, 
aims to bring into focus just what the issues are for which he is 


8. Contemporary American Philosophy, VoL U, p, 16- 



[ 138 ] Sovereign Reason 

contending and just what are the limitations of alternative ap- 
proaches as he understand^ them. In any case, there are few writ- 
ings in philosophy which represent as brilliant an intellectual per- 
formance as the final chapter of his Logic^ in which he exhibits 
different types of logical theories as emphasizing some essential 
phase of inquiry to the exclusion of other phases— with the conse- 
quence that, while judged to be inadequate as a coherent account 
of its subject-matter, the reasons for the plausibility of each theory 
are accounted for. Reference to the subject-matter of logical theory 
must obviously be the final basis for evaluating the adequacy of 
Dewey’s own theory. But such an evaluation can be made, as the 
evaluations of theories in the natural and social sciences are made, 
only by considering theories alternative to his, and by comparing 
the relative success with which the available theories have been able 
to incorporate systematically the rich subject-matter of logic. 

This is not the appropriate occasion for a detailed examination of 
Dewey’s reconstruction of logical theory. But it is proper to point 
out that to some of his readers many of his central technical dis- 
tinctions are extremely vague if not ambiguous, so that it is fre- 
quently impossible to discover their precise import. He has attempted 
a generalized account of the pattern and operations of inquiry; and 
he has unquestionably been successful in formulating the common 
structure of operations that are identifiably similar, despite their 
occurrence in specifically different investigations. Nevertheless, his 
general formulas sometimes cover structurally distinct operations, 
which can be identified as similar only on the basis of hopelessly 
vague analogies. A theory which is so general that it takes no note 
of commonly recognized distinctions is always in danger of lapsing 
into a tautology. Has not Dewey only himself to blame, for ex- 
ample, for the frequent charge of anti-intellectualism and crude 
utilitarianism levelled against him because of his claim that every 
inquiry must have “practical” consequences and must employ “prac- 
tical” means of control? For he has obscured some essential differ- 
ences by using the term “practice” so broadly that it comprehends 
not only the operations of industry and the arts, but also the purely 
symbolic operations such as occur in mathematics. How much ink 
and misunderstanding would have been saved if Dewey had stated 
unambiguously what precisely he understood by “object of knowl- 
edge,” and what, for example, he took to be the status with respect 



Dewey^s Reconstruction of Logical Theory [ i39 ] 

to knowledge of objects and events which can not be physically 
transformed by the operations of inquiry. Many of Dewey’s con- 
tentions turn out to be truistic and not worth fighting about, once 
they are formulated with care. But words having a familiar meaning 
cannot be given an unusual one without risk of confusing their 
readers, unless precise rules are supplied for their application. 

Dewey has expressed great hopes for the development of the 
social sciences if antiquated logical conceptions are replaced by those 
conforming to the requirements of modem scientific method. How- 
ever, not aU of his readers can share his youthful optimism on this 
point, since to many of them an adequate theory of inquiry is 
neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for the advancement 
of a science. Dewey has himself pointed out the remarkable achieve- 
ments of the founders of modern physical science, in spite of their 
inadequate conception of the logic of their procedure. The intent 
of this comment is certainly not that of objecting to Dewey’s aim 
to extend scientific attitudes and critical habits of mind into do- 
mains usually dominated by ignorance and dogmatism. The question 
that is being raised is to ask what we may reasonably expect from 
a logical theory. 

Dewey has sometimes conceived his logical theory as a logic of 
discovery, as distinct from a logic of exposition or of the transmis- 
sion of already acquired knowledge. There can be no question that 
he has contributed something other than the latter type of logical 
theory. On the other hand, the phrase ‘^logic of discovery” has too 
many misleading overtones of meaning to allow it to serve as a 
satisfactory characterization of what he has achieved. Of one thing, 
however, there is no doubt— his logical theory does offer us illu- 
minating principles of criticism and evaluation, it does provide us 
with intellectual tools with the help of which choices and decisions 
can be made more rational by making them less arbitrary, and it 
does impress upon us the moral significance of being intelligent. 
Diderot at the court of Catherine the Great is reputed to have 
become disconcerted when the mathematician Euler announced to 
him: plus b raised to the T^th power is equal to x\ therefore God 

exists.” Like Diderot, we may not always be in the position to locate 
the flaw in the argument, and may become disconcerted; but like 
him, we may decide it is the greater part of wisdom to refuse to 
be fooled. Dewey has helped the present generation not to be 



[ 140 ] Sovereign Reason 

readily fooled, and to distinguish genuine knowledge from pseudo- 
science. And in doing that he has helped us to become intelligent 
and to cast off the bonds of slavery to superstition and blind habits 
of mind. His own life and work exemplify the truth of his dictum: 
“All intelligent thinking means an increment of freedom of action 
—an emancipation from chance and fatality.” 



8 

Reflections on Some Logical and 
Metaphysical Themes in 
Dewey's Philosophy 


1 . SOME LEADING PRINCIPLES OF 

PROFESSOR DEWEY’S LOGICAL THEORY 

Th> CONCEPTION OF LOGIC which ProfcssoT Dewey has been pro- 
posing since the turn of the century is by now so famiKar that it 
would be pointless to restate it in detail in this review of his latest 
formulation of it.^ But no careful reader of this treatise, however 
faithfully he may have followed Professor Dewey’s writings, can 
fail to be stirred by the energy with which it recaptures the splen- 
did ideal of logic as an organon for the effective conduct of inquiry; 
nor can he help being impressed by the bold power with which it 
re-interprets, on the basis of the dominant idea of inquiry as a 
mediatory process with logical principles as its tools, the themes 
of traditional logic and epistemology and the diversely oriented 
analyses of contemporary thinkers. Professor Dewey’s previous con- 
tributions to logical theory, scattered through a score of books, now 

I. Logic: The Theory^ of Inqmry. John Dewey. New York: Henry Holt 
and Company, 193 S. vm + 54<5 pp. $3xx). 

[ 141] 



[ 142 ] Sovereign Reason 

fall into a more definite pattern than before, with the consequence 
that the grounds of his dissent from, as well as of his dependence 
upon, traditional and contemporary schools are made more evident. 

On the other hand, this volume also makes clear that Professor 
Dewey has not ceased to look upon his logical theory as a hypoth- 
esis, the detailed confirmation of which would have to be supphed 
by others in the future. His attention remains focussed primarily 
on the larger context within which logical principles operate, and 
in which they obtain a significance as something more than elements 
in a self-contained mathematical system; and even in this most com- 
plete formulation of his theory, the various functions which the 
principles of formal logic have as tools of inquiry are sketched with 
only enough detail to supply suggestive programs for further ex- 
ploration. In consequence, the book oifers a general underlying 
conception of logic with which many students will enthusiastically 
concur, while at the same time leaving them puzzled at or at issue 
with many of its special analyses. Professor Dewey explicitly recog- 
nizes the programmatic character of his reconstruction of logical 
theory, and like Peirce whom he admires he regards claims to final- 
ity as blocking the road to inquiry; accordingly, his inquiry into 
inquiry must be taken to mark only the beginmng of a large project 
of continued research. 

Professor Dewey is a naturalist in philosophy, and he writes of 
logical forms and principles as would a naturalist in the familiar bio- 
logical sense of the word. His treatise is a study of the morphology 
pf inquiry, and it aims to exhibit, as a biologist might in connection 
with various forms and organs of life, the conditions under which 
logical forms occur and are developed, their specific functions, 
their dependence upon and their transformation of their environ- 
ment, and their own interrelations on the basis of their contribu- 
tions to the achievement of their objectives. 

But Professor Dewey is not just a classificatory naturalist. His 
examination of logical principles is carried through in terms of an 
inclusive theory, according to which subject-matter acquires logical 
traits on being subjected to the diifferential physical transformations 
of inquiry, in consequence, logical principles are taken to formu- 
late the empirically ascertained conditions which must be instituted 
if inquiry is to have a successful termination. This cardinal thesis 
has the force of a paradox, only as long as the methods and conclu- 



Themes in Dewey^s Philosophy [ H3 1 

sions of inquiry are isolated from the contexts in which they operate 
and emerge by being examined solely on the basis of their finished 
formulations. The thesis is further clarified if it is noted that in 
Professor Dewey’s usage the phrase “logical form” stands for the 
way in which selected features of a situation in which inquiry 
occurs function in it, while the phrase “logical principles” denotes 
a mode of operation— md not, as is sometimes the case among stu- 
dents of formal validity, for quasi-grammatical forms and rules. 
Just as plants and animals are studied to the best advantage only 
within their natural environment so that the distinguishing traits 
and uses of their various organs may be ascertained, so on Professor 
Dewey’s view the specific techniques and principles of logic receive 
an adequate theoretical interpretation only by being exhibited in 
the roles they play within the process of inquiry. 

A variant of this general principle of contextual analysis controls 
all of Professor Dewey’s writings: it requires that process and prod- 
uct be taken as correlative distinctions, so that neither can be under- 
stood or assigned a status in existence independently of the other. 
Thus, an effective use is made of this principle in Professor Dewey’s 
discussion of ethical issues when he maintains that the character of 
means employed enters constitutively into the character of ends 
attained. Its special application to logical theory stipulates that the 
conclusions of inquiry must be construed in terms of the procedures 
used to establish them, and that objects of knowledge, conceived as 
products of inquiry, can not be assigned an existence antecedently 
to it. 

This is not a suitable occasion for marshalling evidence for the 
principle as a sound precept of analysis; but in any case, the ap- 
parently paradoxical features of Professor Dewey’s logical theory 
follow from his wholehearted acceptance of it. Consider, for ex- 
ample, his well-known thesis that the objects of knowledge do not 
have an existence antecedent to inquiry. It depends on the manifestly 
empirical claim, which must be decided on matter-of-fact grounds, 
that inquiry involves a physical reconstitution of its environing 
situation before the latter can function as an object of knowledge. 
But if this claim is warranted, then it does follow with the help of 
the above principle that objects of knowledge can not be intelli- 
gibly assigned an existential status prior to and in independence of 
specific inquiries. 



[ 144 ] Sovereign Reason 

Professor Dewey’s refusal to read the conclusions of science ex- 
cept in terms of the operations of inquiry, as well as his interpreta- 
tion of logical principles as rules for the conduct of inquiry rather 
than as formulations of ontological invariants, have brought forth 
the accusation that his philosophy confounds questions of validity 
and logical order with questions of origin and development. There 
is perhaps only a hair-line which divides a sound application of the 
principle of contextual analysis from a commission of the genetic 
fallacy; but it does not seem to me that Professor Dewey has stum- 
bled across it into forbidden territory. He has simply applied to 
matters of logic the sort of analysis prized highly in the sciences. 
Thus, competent students would dismiss as thoroughly incompe- 
tent any proposal to assign meanings to such propositions as that 
light is corpuscular or that space is curved, which neglects the com- 
plicated symbolic transformations needed before such statements 
can be given existential reference, or which fails to note the tech- 
nological apparatus required in order to implement them with a 
physical sense. Refusal to heed such proposals illustrates not the 
genetic fallacy but scientific caution and wisdom. Professor Dewey’s 
similar insistence that logical principles be construed in terms of 
the relatively stable use that is made of them in inquiry is Kkewise 
free from the fallacy; for his insistence arises from a refusal to 
conceive principles as if their sole identifiable habitat were textbooks 
and treatises, and from a conviction that it is their function in in- 
quiry which exhibits their sole meaning and relevance. There is 
clearly a difference between confusing questions of origin and 
validity, and assigning a meaning and a degree of adequacy to prop- 
ositions wholly on the basis of the circumstances of their use. 

In this brief appraisal of Professor Dewey’s Logic it is not possible 
to examine the details of his reconstruction of the theory of in- 
quiry. There is one special point, however, which seems to me 
worth while raising. The central technical innovation of his theory 
is the interpretation of judgment as the settlement of an issue, so 
that a judgment involves the functional correlation of perceptual 
and conceptual material; and in elaborating this notion he intro- 
duces a set of parallel distinctions, of which the most important is 
the difference between generic and universal propositions. The 
intent of the parallel terms is to demarcate the r 61 es of perceptual 
and ideational material in inquiry, and Professor Dewey’s explicit 



Themes in Denjoey^s Philosophy [ 145 ] 

criticism of other writers on logic frequently takes the form that 
they have confounded them. Generic propositions, in brief, are said 
to have existential import referring to spatio-temporal connections 
between existents, and to be contingent even though warranted by 
inquiry, universal propositions express necessary relations between 
characters or possibilities, and may be valid even if no things exist 
with the required traits. For example, Professor Dewey declares 
that “All men are mortal” is generic, if it means that all men have 
died or will die; but that it is universal if it means that if anything 
is human then it is mortal—that is to say, if it asserts a necessary rela- 
tion between the characters of being human and being mortal (pp. 
256ff.). 

The first point to observe about this distinction is that it can not 
be read off from the linguistic form of statements alone and that 
it refers to a difference of function in inquiry. Generic propositions 
are thus employed to identify and isolate perceptual material, and 
to prepare it as evidence for or against a proposed solution of the 
issue at hand; universal function as statements of possible operations 
and their consequences, to be instituted in the interest of solving 
the problem (p. 274). It is therefore confusing to have Professor 
Dewey himself offer certain propositions as categorically iUustrat- 
ing one or the other of these propositional forms, for example, the 
Newtonian formula for gravitation as a universal proposition. If 
the form of a proposition is its function, is he faithful to his general 
standpoint in citing such formulae, taken out of their specific con- 
texts, as examples for his distinctions? Could not inquiries be found 
in which this formula helps to prepare existential material in order 
to identify it for the sake of other operations to be performed? But 
in the second place, the reader is left to wonder just what is the 
force of “necessary” in the account of universals as involving neces-- 
sary relations between characters. Professor Dewey’s statement of 
his distinction, and his occasional illustrations of it, invite the iden- 
tification of generic propositions with what in current literature 
are called synthetic ones, and of universal propositions with analytic 
ones; and some of his readers have already succumbed to the tempta- 
tion to interpret the distinction in such an unambiguous way. Such 
an identification, however, simply will not do, in spite of Professor 
Dewey’s occasional references to universal propositions as definitory 
in nature (e.g., p. 272). For he explicitly declares that univemb 



[ 146 ] Sovereign Reason 

formtilate possible modes of acting, so that the execution of the 
operation prescribed by the proposition also tests its force and 
relevance for solving the problem at hand. But no analytic propo- 
sition, in the contemporary technical sense, would be tested m the 
way frequently proposed by Professor Dewey for his universals 
(cf. p. 264). Moreover, he distinguishes between two sorts of uni- 
versal propositions, one kind being exemplified by propositions of 
mathematical physics (e.g., Newton’s law of gravitation), and the 
other by propositions of mathematics (e.g., two plus two equals 
four); and he recognizes that the former kind do not exhaust the 
possibilities, so that they may have to be abandoned under the stress 
of factual demands, while the latter are apparently free from such 
limitations (p. 398). This subsidiary distinction only aggravates the 
puzzle as to what is to be understood by the specification that uni- 
versals assert necessary relations between characters. It follows that 
the whole basis of his distinction between them and generic propo- 
sitions remains obscure, while at the same time the grounds for his 
criticism of those logicians whom he calls “formalists” are not ob- 
viously relevant. Could he not be persuaded to restate the matter 
with greater clarity and fullness? 

In so far as I understand the distinction between generic and 
universal propositions, it does not seem to me to be a sharp one, 
though it calls attention to important stages in the continuum of 
inquiry. Certain propositions, suggested but not derived from em- 
pirical material, may be asserted with confidence because the con- 
ditions for warranted assertions have been approximated for them. 
These propositions do not enter integrally into the theoretical 
framework of science, and their correction or even total abandon- 
ment does not involve a radical recasting of that framework; such 
propositions, I am suggesting, may be Professor Dewey’s generic 
ones. On the other hand, some propositions gradually acquire such 
a commanding position in the set of warranted assertions of the 
period (in terms of comprehensiveness and deductive power), that 
they reach the status of leading principles of empirical analysis and 
in large measure control the general direction of research in the 
science of which they are a part. These propositions are not easily 
challenged fay the facts of experience, not because they have no 
significant alternatives, but because to challenge them would involve 
a fundamental overhauling of the theoretical systems of science; they 



Themes tn De^ey^s Philosophy [ i47 1 

thus function as assured procedural principles, no longer at the 
mercy of random experiments because smtable devices are provided 
for obviating apparent contradictions with experience without im- 
pairing their fruitfulness as gmdes to further inquiry. Such propo- 
sitions seems to me to fall into Professor Dewey’s first kind of 
umversals. But the propositions of mathematics differ radically from 
those just mentioned. They are analytic, and though also instru- 
mental in inquiry are instrumental in a different way. For their 
function is to make transitions in discourse, to facilitate calcula- 
tions of various sorts, rather than to direct the analysis of empirical 
material or to formulate possible modes of action. The recognition 
of these distinctions seems to me fundamental for an adequate theory 
of inquiry; but while Professor Dewey does not overlook them, his 
discussions of them and of related topics do not constitute the most 
enlightening portions of his treatise. 

In spite of its limitations as to details, no half-way sympathetic 
reader of this book can lay it down without the conviction that it 
offers a conception of logic which has its roots firmly attached to 
the procedures of science, and that its integral view of the subject 
ranks among the great visions of the day. Those who read it must 
acquire courage and inspiration to contribute their share toward 
completing the fundamental task which Professor Dewey has en- 
visaged with such startling clarity and adequacy. 

2 PROFESSOR DEWEY’S ANALYSIS OF INDIVIDUALITY 

Professor Dewey’s address on “Time and Individuality”- argues 
the general thesis that the mark of individuality is development, 
and that “temporal seriality is the very essence of the human indi- 
vidual.” Moreover, in opposition to the view that sequential change 
is foreign to the nature of inanimate things, he maintains that “the 
principle of a developing career applies to all tilings in nature.” 
Two corollaries are drawn from this metaphysical doctrine. The 
first is that progress is not inevitable, but is contingent on the efforts 
of men to control change in a given direction, consequently, the 
ground of democratic ideas and practices must be a faith in the 

2. Time and Its Mysteries, Senes 11 . Four Lectures given on the James 
Arthur Foundanon, New York University, by Daniel Webster Hering, Wil- 
liam Francis Gray Swann, John Dewey, and Arthur H. Compton, New 
York. New York University Press. London. Humphrey Milford. Oxford 
University Press. 1940. viii -f 137 pp. $2jx>. 



[ 148 ] Sovereign Reason 

potentialities of individuals. The second is that art complements 
science in bemg a manifestation of individuality as creative of the 
future; hence, since "‘the free mdividuality which is the source of 
art is also the final source of creative development in time,” the 
regimentation of artists is treason to the better future which such 
regimentation would serve. 

Professor Dewey’s essay is provocative, but his argument is puz- 
zling. He rests his case concerning the universal validity of the 
“principle of a developing career” on two main contentions. The 
fibrst is that ""scientific objects” are purely relational, so that the 
method of physical science is concerned with the measurement of 
change and ‘"not with individuals as such”; the second is that it is 
becoming clear that in physics “statements of what actually occurs 
are statistical in character as distinct from so-called dynamical laws 
that are abstract in character, and disguised definitions.” Professor 
Dewey seems to me correct in his characterization of scientific 
objects. But is it really the case that the methods of the natural 
sciences are not concerned with “individuals as such”.^ Do we not 
have reliable physical knowledge concerning such manifest indi- 
viduals as the sun, the earth, and even individual human beings.^ The 
second contention appears to me even more dubious. I will not stop 
to argue the question whether the theories and laws of mechanics, 
classical thermodynamics, relativity theory, and a good part of 
optics and electrodynamics are in fact statistical laws, and if not 
whether they are disguised definitions. I do not think that the 
answer is afiirmative in either case. The crucial question is whether, 
even if the statements of physics are statistical in character, it fol- 
lows that development characterizes all things in nature. It does 
not seem to me that this consequence can be validly drawn; for 
there is no contradiction in using both a statistical and a non-statisti- 
cal (“dynamic”) theory for the same subject-matter, as is evident 
from the fact that both statistical mechanics and thermodynamics 
can be employed in the domain of thermal phenomena. 

Professor Dewey also appeals to the Heisenberg indeterminacy 
relation as evidence for that fact that “the individual is a tempord 
career whose future can not be logically deduced from its past,” 
so that “for physical individuals time is not simply a measure of 
predetermined changes in mutual positions, but is something that 
enters into their being.” Waiving the question whether the pro- 



Themes in Dewey^s Philosophy [ 149 ] 

posed interpretation of the Heisenberg principle is adequate, it is 
amusing to find Professor Dewey denying that science is concerned 
with the intrinsic natures of things while at the same time he makes 
statements which do just that. Moreover, while the predictions of 
science are only probable, as Professor Dewey rightly maintains, 
this fact is not a specific outcome of the Heisenberg principle; for 
it is justifiable to assert that fact even for the classical dynamical 
theories, so long as those theories have an empirical content and are 
not “disguised definitions.” It is not clear, therefore, what relevance 
the Heisenberg principle has for Professor Dewey’s argument. 

Professor Dewey maintains that a thing’s potentialities are not 
fixed and intrinsic to it, but depend on the consequences of its 
interactions with other things. It is somewhat strange, however, to 
find him also maintaining that the validity of this doctrine is essen- 
tially related to a view which regards the “spatial rearrangement of 
what existed previously” as in some sense an inferior manifestation 
of development than a “qualitatively new” happening. For since 
we can not tell what the character of physical theories will be like 
after another hundred years of research, this seems like giving need- 
less hostages to the future. But what I find really strange, in the 
light of Professor Dewey’s main thesis, is to have him declare that 
an individual can lose his individuality by becoming imprisoned in 
routine, that “our behavior becomes predictable because it is but 
an external rearrangement of what went before,” and that the human 
problem is the control of change in a given direction. Since this 
problem, if it is to be solved, presumably involves making predic- 
tions concerning the future on the strength of past behaviors, these 
various doctrines do not seem to me compatible. I do not think, 
therefore, that the metaphysical underpinning Professor Dewey sup- 
plies for his democratic faith is an adequate or, for that matter, a 
needful structure. And I think that in attempting to supply it in 
the manner of the present essay he has not been faithful to his own 
best teachings. 



9 

Alfred North Whitehead 


I. 

One of the dominant ideals of western philosophy has been 
the constmction of a coherent, logically related system of ideas in 
terms of which every phase of existence can be interpreted. No 
philosopher in recent decades has pursued this ideal with such dis- 
tinction as has Alfred North Whitehead, who died at the age of 
S6 on December 30, 1947. Most of the great philosophical systems 
of the past were developed by men intimately familiar with the 
sciences of their day; and in this respect also, unlike most contempo- 
rary metaphysicians, Whitehead falls within the great tradition. 
Indeed, it was not as a speculative metaphysician that he first 
achieved eminence. His Universal Algebra and the Principia Mathe-- 
matica (written in collaboration with Bertrand Russell) are con- 
tributions of classic importance to mathematics and logic; and his 
subsequent analyses of the foundations of mathematical physics have 
been judged as constituting a prolegomena to every future philos- 

[ ^50] 



Alfred North Whitehead [ 151 ] 

ophy of science. It is a moot question whether Whitehead’s perma- 
nent place in the history of thought is made more secure by his 
scientific attainments or by his essays into philosophical cosmology. 
But in any event, the essential features of his philosophy of organ- 
ism are famihar to an audience not confined to his professional 
colleagues, and his system continues to influence the thinking of 
men in many different occupations. This unusual spectacle of a 
difficult philosopher with a wide circle of lay readers cannot be 
explained entirely in terms of Whitehead’s scientific prestige, nor 
in terms of the grace and frequent brilhance of his prose, nor in 
terms of the sheer delight that his suggestive play of ideas evokes. 
His philosophical writings express some of the dynamic tensions 
of the society in which he lived, and they answer needs that are 
deep-seated and widely felt. 

Philosophy may begin in wonder, but the wonder that rouses 
philosophical reflection must contain a large admixture of puzzle- 
ment. The puzzle controlling much of Whitehead’s thought is 
produced by the apparent incongruity between the world encoun- 
tered in immediate experience and the world allegedy disclosed by 
modem natural science. The familiar world of everyday experience 
is a continuum of sensuous qualities, and contains events and proc- 
cesses that are permeated with emotional and purposive values. On 
the other hand, the world as envisaged by an influential interpreta- 
tion of classical physics consists of isolated bits of matter, shorn 
of all sensuous glory and stripped of any inherent direction or 
value. The latter world thus seems utterly alien to human experi- 
ence; and if science renders a true account of the nature of things, 
it becomes difficult to accept the human scene as anything but 
an insubstantial appearance But a conception of reality according 
to which the traits of things most prized by men have no genuine 
place in it, converts human aspirations into a mockery; and worse 
still, it transforms the obvious efficacy of human actions into an 
unintelligible mystery. 

It is one of Whitehead’s signal achievements to have recognized 
that the radical bifurcation of man and nature, associated with what 
he called “scientific materiahsm,” is not necessitated by physical 
science. He was able to show that the concepts of physics, far from 
describing a “real world” with which the genuine reality of things 
apprehended in immediate experience is incompatible, are abstrac- 



[ 152 ] Sovereign Reason 

tions referring to qualities and processes discernible in such experi- 
ence. The task that Whitehead envisioned for philosophy was 
therefore that of supplying a critique of abstractions— a critique 
which would exhibit the derivation and the specific functions of 
abstractions in a world that contains much more than the skeletal 
patterns of change made explicit by natural science. But he not 
only proposed this task. He also developed a powerful intellectual 
technique for carrying it out, and used it to illumine the significance 
of a number of basic scientific concepts. Those who read with 
excitement his Principles of Natural Knowledge, Concept of Nature, 
and The Principle of Relativity when they appeared shortly after 
the First World War, will scarcely forget the great hope these books 
inspired. They were a promise of a comprehensive philosophy that 
could take physics seriously for its disclosures concerning the execu- 
tive order of nature, and that could at the same time recognize as 
irreducible factors in the scheme of things the qualities and pur- 
posive activities manifested to human experience. 

The books Whitehead published after he joined the Harvard 
faculty in 1924— especially Science and the Modern World, Process 
and Reality, and Adventures of Zim—continued the critique of 
abstractions he had begun so impressively. But they contmued the 
critique in terms of conceptions cosmic in scope, rather than by 
exhibiting the import of abstractions in terms of their specific 
functions. He now presented a comprehensive vision of the universe 
that appeared to integrate and illuminate an endless variety of 
events and processes. However, while the earlier analysis showed 
that the “senseless, valueless, purposeless” universe of scientific 
materialism is a consequence of the fallacy of misplaced concrete- 
ness, of mistaking the abstract for the concrete, Whitehead now 
maintained that nature can be made intelligible only if everything 
actual is assumed to have the traits generic to living organisms. 
Everything actual, according to this later doctrine, exhibits “feel- 
ing,” everything actual manifests a selective activity akin to “pur- 
pose,” everything actual is related essentially and “organically” to 
everything else. If the universe thus portrayed no longer seems alien 
to human aspirations, it is because the features nature displays in all 
her sectors are strictly analogous to features displayed by the human 
organism. Indeed, moral and aesthetic beauty is now claimed to be 
the “aim” of all existence, and not merely an occasional achieve- 



Alfred North Whitehead [ i53 ] 

ment in the human arena of the cosmos. Whitehead’s culminating 
philosophy, hke that of Plato, is thus an attempt to combine an 
interpretation of the universe that is both rationalistic and rehgious 
—the rationalism conceived as the faith that at the base of things 
there is no mere arbitrary mystery, the religion freed from super- 
stition and institutionalized dogma. It is scarcely surprising that 
those seeking new foundations for ancient faiths, or rebelling against 
the discipline imposed by modern science on romantic speculation, 
have found in the philosophy of organism an answer to their needs. 
On the other hand, Whitehead’s cosmology is a celebration of 
process and creative advance toward novelty as ultimate and per- 
vasive traits of nature, and his system provides a fresh alternative 
to the parochial negations of many traditional patterns of thought. 
He was in fact sensitive as few technical plnlosophers have been 
to the movement of things and ideas, and to the subtleties and com- 
plexities of experience. The burden of much of his cosmic vision 
IS carried by his aphoristic observ^ation that “Life is an offensive, 
directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe.” He 
w^as an extraordinarily gifted spokesman, perceptive and wise, for 
everything nascent, venturesome, and potentially liberating. 

Whitehead’s philosophic cosmology is a vision that is articulated 
with amazing virtuosity, but which rests less upon detailed argument 
than upon direct insight. While much of it is inspired by a mathe- 
matical conception of the universe, it also owes a heavy debt to 
the romantic tradition; and for all its stress upon the importance 
of time and the emergence of novelty, it has an obvious kinship with 
the absolute idealism of Hegel. In the hands of a great thinker 
disciplined by intimate contact with modern science, such as 
Whitehead was, the cosmology can undoubtedly be used to shed 
light on numerous basic problems. Nonetheless, it is at least an open 
question whether the systematic use, by Whitehead or lesser men, 
of its organismic categories as ultimate principles of interpretation 
for everything whatsoever, yields illumination rather than obscurity. 
To attribute “feeling” to whatever exists, to view all physical stresses 
as “appetitions,” to see in the occurrence of any event the outcome 
of a “decision” between alternatives— what is this but to describe 
everything in nature in animistic terms, and to sanctify supersti- 
tions from which men have only partly freed themselves? Is it 
really clarifying and necessary, in order to find a place m the scheme 



[154] Sovereign Reason 

of things for the human scene^ to describe the cosmos as if one were 
writing a general anthropology? Moreover, does one achieve either 
knowledge or a better understanding of what is already known, 
by simply giving new and potentially misleading names to already 
discriminated elements of nature— for example, by^ labelling all 
processes as having “aims’’? And if we admit, as perforce we must, 
that no intellectual analysis, however thorough, can exhaust or 
reproduce the passage of concrete events, is it either well-advised 
or true to say that “Logic is a fake”? Such, at any rate, are some 
of the doubts concerning Whitehead’s philosophic cosmology that 
besiege many questioning minds. It is not Whitehead, the speculative 
metaphysician, who has won the profound admiration of all his 
readers. The excellence many of them cherish, is the excellence 
found in Whitehead, the acute analyst, the steadfast critic of closed 
systems and provincial dogmatisms, the incredibly sensitive com- 
mentator on the diversity and the flux of existence. 

2. 

The pursuit of metaphysics as the study of generic characters of 
existence has been slowly regaining its professional adherents. Once 
its central theme, reaction to the unchecked flights of nineteenth 
century romantic speculation has well nigh banished metaphysics 
as a legitimate subject matter for philosophy. But the problems 
which professional philosophers refused to consider became acutely 
pressing in the special sciences. It was to be expected that ere long 
comprehensive treatises on the nature of existence would appear, 
fashioned by philosophers who were sensitive to the advances of 
recent science as well as to the ancient tradition that philosophy 
is the systematic study of being. To the series of distinguished essays 
on metaphysics which contemporary philosophers have contributed, 
these volumes^ are a notable addition. 

Process and Reality , to which The function of Reason can 
serve as an introduction or summary, should be doubly welcome. 
In the fixst place, it is written by a man highly sensitive to the most 
varied phases of human experience, and exceptionally competent to 
write on some of them. Mathematics, physics, biology, art, religion, 

I, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, by A, N. Whitehead. 
(Mactnillan, 1929), $4.50. 

The FimcUon of Reason, by A. N* Whitehead. (Princeton University Press, 
1929), $1,50. 



Alfred North Whitehead [ ^55 ] 

are not alien to him, and in at least the first two disciplines White- 
head is an acknowledged master. As a consequence, 'his volumes are 
crammed full with insights and flashing phrases which illuminate 
both text and subject matter as lightning does a stormy night. In 
the second place, Whitehead’s approach to philosophic problems 
has avoided traditional cliches. He has faced the issues of philosophy 
with the conviction that not only must the characters which science 
especially notes be taken as genuine traits of existence, but those 
specific characters which eventuate when the rest of nature inter- 
acts with the human organism must be so taken as well The traits 
which appear in the segment of existence falling witliin human ex- 
perience are taken by him as instances of, and continuous with, 
analogous traits in the furthest reaches of nature. His metaphysics 
consists, therefore, in the framing of categories adequate to describe 
every phase of existence, but which are nevertheless such that any 
characters whatsoever, subsumed under those categories, are shown 
to be not different in kind, though different in degree of complexity, 
from the characters manifested in human life. In this fashion does 
Whitehead hope to demonstrate the unity of man and nature. 

No summary less extended than the book itself can do justice to 
the sweep and ingenuity of this cosmology, which requires one 
Category of the Ultimate, eight Categories of Existence, twenty- 
seven Categories of Explanation, and nine Categorial Obligations 
for its framework. In essence, however, its doctrine is a variation on 
the Platonic-Leibnizian theory of how a multiplicity of pure forms 
or eternal objects are caught up by (ingress into) the flux of ac- 
tuality. For like many other metaphysicians, Whitehead finds himself 
in agreement with pre-Kantian fashions of thought even though he 
started out in opposition to them. Temporal things arise by partici- 
pation in eternal things. But in coming to be a determinate instance 
of a pure form, a temporal thing reflects (prehends) the universe 
of many disjoined actual occasions, so that its selective absorption 
of the disjoined universe culminates in a novel and unified event, 
which in turn contributes its share to (becomes objectified in) the 
intrinsic natures of other actual occasions. Every actual entity must, 
accordingly, be construed as dipolar. It is something physical, the 
culmination of antecedent processes which emerge in it as a novel 
synthesis and enjoy therein a specific physical immediacy, called 
*‘feeling”; and it is also something restive or appetitive for eternal 



[ 156 ] Sovereign Reason 

objects as yet unrealized in the flux, thereby passing on from the 
finality of its own eventuation to new moments of completed cre- 
ation. “Some lowly, diffused form of the operations of Reason 
constitutes the vast diffused counter-agency by which the material 
umverse comes into being.” Consequently, every actual entity is 
capable of two supplementary analyses: genetic analysis shows how 
the entity has become what it is as the outcome of its prehending 
the rest of the universe; morphologic analysis indicates the relations 
of efficient causality which it bears to its contemporaries and suc- 
cessors. The pervasive twofold character of an actual entity as 
physical or final, and as mental or appetitive, is the prototype selected 
by Whitehead in terms of which such relations as that of the mind 
to its body can be rendered intelligible. The initial dualism of actual 
entity and eternal object is mediated, however, as in Plato and 
Leibniz, by a God. He has both a “primordial nature,” whereby the 
barren pure forms are eternally and ideally realized in him, and 
whereby he constitutes a principle of selectivity, so that the actual 
process never fails to exhibit the principles of Whitehead’s meta- 
physics by precipitating new eternal objects; and he has a “conse- 
quent nature” wherein the mutual immediacy of whatever once is 
actual is forever conserved. So this metaphysics ends in a Bradleyan 
view of the universe: it is actualized in individual entities; but these 
are nevertheless organically connected in the unity of God’s feehng 
of their conjoint existence, as well as through the relevance to them 
of every unactualized form ideally felt by God. 

In spite of the speculative power of this cosmology, it will leave 
some readers dissatisfied and censorious. This reviewer, at any rate, 
must protest, in the first place, against the severe abuse of language 
to which Whitehead is partial. Every attempt at precision in meta- 
physics is praiseworthy. But when, instead of using newly coined 
words or old words carefully redefined, he introduces words that 
have an accepted meaning and an inevitable human association to 
denote his own unusual categories, he invites confusion and ob- 
scurantism.> Words like “feeling,” “satisfaction,” “decision,” “appe- 
tition,” “society,” which have a vague enough accepted connotation, 
can be employed only with danger as the equivalents, more or less, 
of more neutral words like “immediacy,” “completion,” “selec- 
tivity,” “incompleteness,” “structure.” For the ease with which the 
former set of words become symbols for specifically human qualities, 



Alfred North Whitehead [ ^57 ] 

which are then read into every occurrence in nature, makes them 
unfit for exact thought, especially when their meanings are loosely 
stated. It is a strange irony that the co-author of Principia Mathe- 
Tnatica should have at once so great a distrust of language that he 
disowns it as adequate to express propositions, and yet so much 
faith in a word like “feeling” that he uses it to connote indiscrimi- 
nately the different types of immediacy which events possess. If 
language does not “express” a proposition, what, one would like 
to know, does? What is “expression” if language does not do it, 
and what is a “proposition” if language does not adequately express 
it? The program to construct a coherent, logical, and necessary 
system of ideas, in terms of which every element of experience is to 
be stated, is not far from sheer verbalism if, for example, every variety 
of immediacy is subsumed under the label of “feelings,” and if 
thereby the tenuous analogy between the feelings of human beings 
and the specificity of any event is expanded into an identity of type. 

Speculation, as Whitehead urges, is the life blood of science and 
philosophy. But he also admits that it must not run wild. Unless the 
speculative flight ends in theories which are directly or indirectly 
verifiable in human experience, what differentiates a daring philoso- 
phy from myth and superstition? Now what are the possible ways 
of verifying Whitehead’s ubiquitous feelings, satisfactions, uncon- 
scious prehensions, or his God’s patience, wisdom, consciousness, 
and conservation of all values? Either these terms do not mean 
what they ordinarily mean, and then this metaphysics must cer- 
tainly be supplemented by more analytic studies; or the existence 
of what they denote is not verifiable. Furthermore, when White- 
head declares that by the “coherence” of ideas he understands that 
no entity be conceivable in “complete abstraction” from the sys- 
tem of the universe, one may retort that no relational way of 
thought can declare itself otherwise. But one must also add, that 
while there can be no “complete abstraction” in this sense, there 
undoubtedly is a “relative abstraction” so that one must not 
make the impossible demand that the nature of the whole universe 
be presupposed in whatever we may say. Whitehead’s pursuit of 
truth as “nothing else” than how the composite natures of actuali- 
ties receive representations in God’s nature (p, i8), is fortunately 
not his only occupation, otherwise the Umversal Algebra and the 
Principia would never have been written. And when one reads. 



[ 158 ] Sovereign Reason 

further, that the “necessity’’ of a philosophic scheme must bear in 
itself its own warrant of universahty (p. 5); or when a frequency 
theory of probability is made to depend on an intuitive and infalhble 
knowledge of “equal probabilities” (p. 307); the reader can only 
gasp and wonder at the audacity of the mathematician who denies 
the principles of the method of his own science when he turns 
philosopher. 

More serious difEculties in this scheme of ideas remain. This 
cosmology is an explicit attempt to combine a pluralism of events, 
an appreciation of their uniqueness and contingency, with an or- 
ganic view of existence in which the “togetherness” of things is 
facilitated by God’s non-temporal conceptual feeling of the realm 
of pure forms. In so far as each thing is what it is in virtue of the 
concrescent union in it of other things, existence is organically con- 
nected and all relations are internal. Nevertheless, Whitehead recog- 
nizes two types of prehensions, a positive kind, in which a “posi- 
tive,” definite bond exists between every pair of items in the 
universe, accompanied by a feeling of that bond; and a negative 
kind, in which some items are excluded from contributing to the 
subject’s constitution. All actual entities, but only a selection of 
eternal objects, are felt by a given subject; nevertheless, even the 
eternal objects not felt play a role, since negative prehensions too 
have their immediate aspects, and the “negative prehension of an 
entity is a positive fact with its subjective form” (p. 66). The 
proverbial flea on the dog’s tail does add, apparently, to the actual 
nature of the dog-star; for if it does not do so “positively,” the 
exclusion of the flea from contributing to the internal constitution 
of Sirius is nevertheless accompanied by an appropriate subjective 
feeling all the same. The “organic” nature of existence is proved 
because all things must be related, since if two things are not related 
in a specific way, the non-relation is, after all, a relation of a kind! 
All this may be true, but the conclusion that existence is organic is 
won at the price of so far diluting the meaning of “organism” that 
the application of the term to specific biological structures no longer 
differentiates the latter from “inorganic” structures. Of what avail 
to call the interrelation of the stars organic, if the kind of organiza- 
tion the stars exhibit is poles apart from the organization of living 
things? 

Why anything should happen at all, why actual things should be 



Alfred North Whitehead [ ^59 ] 

“restless after novelty,” is a problem which no naturalistic philoso- 
phy need face, since if it is faced it must be left unanswered, even if 
it is left in the bosom of God. Whitehead’s philosophic writings 
have been largely devoted to calling attention to this element of in- 
eradicable freshness and unaccountability in every event, and he has 
not hesitated finally to identify this creative urge with the divine 
element in actuality. The price of novelty, however, is the passing 
away of characters which antecedent events possessed, and the cre- 
ative advance of nature is accompanied by the perishing of those 
immediacies which have already emerged. On Whitehead’s theory 
of God’s twofold nature it is difficult to see how creation does retain 
its spontaneity, and how what is once actual does pass away. For 
the primordial nature of God is his feeling the entire multiplicity of 
eternal objects, so that by reason of God’s sharing in the nature 
of actual entity, there results a gradation of the relevance of eternal 
objects to the career of that entity. “Effective relevance requires 
agency of comparison, and agency belongs exclusively to actual 
occasions. This divine ordering is itself matter of fact, thereby con- 
ditioning creativity. Thus possibility which transcends realized 
temporal matter of fact has a real relevance to the creative advance” 
(p. 46). That individuality and self determination which appeared 
to be the contribution of every event to existence, seems here to be 
derivative from the primordial nature of God which transcends the 
given actual occasion. On the other hand, the consequent nature of 
God provides for the objective immortality of every actual thing. 
“In it there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison 
of immediacy” (p. 524). God thus becomes the great companion, 
the fellow sufferer who understands! But either the “unison of 
immediacy” is a Pickwickian description of the posterity or causal 
consequences of actual entities, or death and decay become illusions. 

In Whitehead’s system, therefore, the possibilities into which 
actual entities can develop are given once for all, and unlike Charles 
Peirce’s cosmogenic growth of possibilities, novelty in actuality 
must always come from “somewhere.” Whitehead’s conclusion is in 
line, therefore, with the traditional philosophic and theologic sys- 
tems. But one reader at least would like to know what is the literal 
meaning of conceptual prehensions of eternal objects, if conscious- 
ness is not necessary for such prehensions. One would like to know 
on the basis of what evidence, or upon what interpretation, ap- 



[ i6o ] Sovereign Reason 

petition for an eternal object plays the role of final cause, efficacious 
in the realization of detemndnate occasions. One would like to know 
Whitehead’s detailed solution of the well known antinomies arising 
from the notion of the class of abstracta (p. 73). One would like to 
know what it means to say that “apart from the experiences of 
subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness” 
(p. 254), or that it is the appetition -for unrealized forms which is 
the final cause of the temporal process One must ask whether the 
characterization of process as an “influx” of eternal objects, or of 
change as the description of the adventures of eternal objects in 
actuahty, are really contributions to an understanding of change 
and process. One suspects, therefore, that eternal objects, instead of 
being regarded as the relational patterns invariant over segments of 
existence, are uncritically hypostatized so that a God must be in- 
voked to precipitate them back into the flux. And one suspects that 
Whitehead has accomplished the resolution of the Cartesian prob- 
lem of how the mind and body interact, only by raising the hopeless 
question of how possibilities can be effective in regulating their 
own realization. 



10 

The Philosophy 
of Bertrand Russell 


R^ussell’s writings on the philosophy of science exhibit one 
persistent feature: his explicitly avowed use of the maxim ‘When- 
ever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for in- 
ferences to unimown entities,”^ a maxim which elsew'here he calls 
“the supreme maxim in scientific philosophizing.” Acting upon this 
precept, he has attempted to show that the ostensible objects of 
science are “logical fictions,” capable of definition in terms of ap- 

I. Contemporary British Philosophy, First Senes, edited by J. H, Muirhead, 
London and New York, 1925, p. 363. Subsequent references to this book wilt 
be abbreviated to CBP. 

In this essay the following abbreviations will be used for the titles of books 
by Russell. FG for An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, Cambridge, 
England, 1897, IMP for Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, London 
and New York, 1920; P for Philosophy, New York, 1927, AM for The 
Analysts of Matter, London, 1927; OKEW for Our Knowledge of the Ex- 
ternal World, Second Edition, New York, 1929, PM for The Principles of 
Mathematics, Second Edition, New York, 1938, ABC for The ABC of Rela- 
tivity, London, 1925; and IMT for An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, 
New York, 1940. 


[ ] 



[162] Sovereign Reason 

propriately selected elements. I wish in this essay to examine die 
type of analysis which Russell has brought to bear upon the logical 
problems of physics as a consequence of his adoption of this maxim. 
However, Russell has repeatedly called attention to the fact that it 
was the fruitfulness of certain logical techmques in the foundations 
of mathematics which led ‘him to adopt the maxim as the supreme 
guide in philosophy. I shall therefore briefly consider those tech- 
niques, as they are employed in the context of Russell's reconstruc- 
tion of pure mathematics, preliminary to the discussion of his 
analysis of physics. 


I. 

I. Russell’s by now classic studies on the foundations of mathe- 
matics brought to a conclusion what was, at the time of their pub- 
lication, a revolution in traditional conceptions of mathematics. As 
is well known, the explicit thesis for which those studies supply 
overwhelming evidence is the essential identity of logic and pure 
mathematics. In exhibiting that identity, Russell also establishes the 
untenability of certain influential theories of knowledge which 
were based upon historically widespread views as to the nature of 
mathematics. For by clearly distinguishing between pure mathe- 
matics, whose propositions contain only logical terms, and applied 
mathematics, whose propositions contain descriptive (or empirical) 
as well as logical terms, he cut the ground from under the claims of 
dogmatic rationalism, Kantian apriorism, and types of sensational- 
istic empiricism. On the other hand, Russell’s own analyses seemed 
to require the adoption of an extreme form of Platonic realism, since 
his detailed justification of mathematics as a body of valid proposi- 
tions appeared to be cogent only on the hypothesis of the “inde- 
pendent reality” of universals and relations. Indeed, it was in con- 
siderable measure because of this supposed connection between such 
a realism and Russell’s major thesis about mathematics, that the 
logico-symbolic techniques he employed so brilliantly were believed 
to require definite philosophical commitments, so that the use of 
those techniques became the center of philosophic controversy. 

Nevertheless, some of Russell’s most notable achievements in the 
analysis of mathematical notions exemplified a tendency opposed 
to Platonic realism. His analysis of the notion of cardinal number, 
for example, showed that it was unnecessary to assume the “exist- 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 163 ] 

ence” (or “subsistence”) of a specific type of entity to correspond 
to the notion; and, accordingly, he showed that, without affecting 
the structure or validity of mathematics, the “ultimate population” 
of Platonic objects may be supposed to be smaller than had been 
thought. 

In effecting such economies, Russell was in fact carrying on a 
great tradition in mathematics. Thus, the “extension” of the number- 
concept in the history of mathematics was first accompanied by the 
postulation of special kinds of number (the rational fractions, the 
signed numbers, the irrationals, the imaginaries, the infinitesimals, 
and so on) to serve as the objects “discovered” by mathematicians. 
But the subsequent work of such men as Hamilton, Von Staudt, and 
Weierstrass made it evident that the postulation of such numbers 
as distinctive sorts of entities was unnecessary, since the required 
“entities” can all be defined in terms of famihar anthmetical notions 
and operations. Accordingly, when Russell declared 

Every one can see that a circle, being a closed curve, cannot get to 
infinity. The metaphysician who should mvent anything so preposterous 
as the circular points [at infinity], would be hooted from the field. But 
the mathematician may steal the horse with impunity,^ 

and when, years later, commeilting on the mathematician’s occa- 
sional practice of postulating what is required, he noted that “The 
method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they 
are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil,”® he was 
doing less than justice to the tendency which the history of mathe- 
matics illustrates of eventually supplanting dubious “inferences” by 
suitable “constructions.” Russell’s maxim of philosophizing simply 
makes explicit a long-range trend of mathematical development. 

2. For the sake of definiteness, the operation of Russell’s tech- 
niques for avoiding needless postulations in mathematics will be 
illustrated in three cases. First, the cardinal numbers. The cardinal 
numbers are generally admitted to be predicable of classes, two 
classes being assigned the same number when they are similar (i.e,, 
when their members can be correlated in a one to one fashion). It 
seems natural, therefore, to regard the cardinal number of a class 
as the property which that class has in common wdth classes similar 
to it; and, on this view, a cardinal number is sometimes said to be 

2. FG, 45^, 

3. IMP:, 71 • 



[ 164 ] Sovereign Reason 

obtained ‘‘by abstraction” from the classes possessing it. However, 
there seems no good reason for supposing that similar classes have 
just one property in common rather than a set of properties. There 
is even room for doubt whether at least one such property “exists”; 
for in assuming the existence of such a property we are assuming, 
according to Russell, “a metaphysical entity about which we can 
never feel sure that it exists or that we have tracked it down.”^ In 
order to avoid these difficulties he therefore defined the number of 
a class as the class whose members are classes similar to the given 
class. Since it can be proved that there is only one such class of 
classes, the first difficulty vanishes; and since this class possesses all 
the formal characteristics expected of cardinal numbers, while at 
the same time its existence is “indubitable,” it no longer is necessary 
“to hunt for a problematic number which must always remain 
elusive.”^ 

Consider next Russell’s definition of the real numbers, for example, 
of the irrational number which is the square-root of two. It is well 
known that the square-root of two is not an integer and that it 
cannot be a rational number. What, then, is it? Prior to Russell’s 
analysis it was customary to regard it as the limit of certain series of 
rational numbers, or more generally, as a distinct kind of entity 
whose “existence” was assumed for the sake of satisfying certain 
mathematical relations. For example, the rational numbers, if or- 
dered according to magnitude, form a series. In many cases this 
series can be decomposed into two ordered classes, such that one 
of the rational numbers separates their members; thus, the two 
classes, rationals less than two-thirds and rationals greater than two- 
thirds, are separated by the rational number two-thirds. On the 
other hand, consider the two ordered classes of rationals, rational 
numbers whose squares are less than two and rational numbers 
whose squares are greater than two; in this case, no rational number 
effects the separation. It again seems “natural” to suppose that there 
must be a number, though not a rational one, which “lies between” 
these two classes. But what cogent grounds have we for assuming 
the “existence” of such a number? Russell argued that we have none, 
and that it is only the influence of irrelevant spatial imagination or 
the seductiveness of certain algebraic operations which lends an air 

4. /MP, 18. 

5. /MP, 18, 



The Philosophy of Bertrafid Russell [^65] 

of plausibility to such an assumption. The assertion of the “exist- 
ence” of a new kind of number is thus an unwarranted “inference,” 
and introduces something problematic and elusive into mathematics. 
On the other hand, the existence of the class of rationals whose 
squares are less than two is ?iot disputable, for this class is “con- 
structed” out of “known” elements. Accordingly, since the mathe- 
matical properties usually attributed to irrational numbers can be 
shown to belong to that class, Russell defined the square-root of two 
as identical with that class of rational numbers. 

The notion of class plays a fundamental role in these two examples. 
But, according to Russell, classes, like cardinal and real numbers, 
are not part of “the ultimate furniture of the world” (since they 
are neither “particulars” nor properties or relations of particulars), 
and must thus be regarded as “logical constructions.” He therefore 
required a definition of classes 

which will assign a meaning to propositions in whose verbal or symbolic 
expressions words or symbols apparently represting classes occur, but 
which will assign a meaning that altogether eliminates all mention of 
classes from a right analysis of such propositions. We shall then be 
able to say that the symbols for classes are mere conveniences, not 
representing objects called “classes,” and that classes are in fact . . . 
logical fictions.® 

Russell achieved his objective by devising as translations for state- 
ments explicitly about classes other statements which mention only 
certain properties possessed by the individuals that would ordinarily 
be said to be members of those classes. Before illustrating Russell’s 
procedure, a certain difficulty in effecting such translations must be 
mentioned. A given property (e.g., being human) determines 
uniquely just one class (i.e., the class of men); but the same class 
will be determined by two or more non-identical properties, if 
those properties are formally equivalent—that is, if every individual 
which possesses one of the properties also possesses the other, and 
conversely. Thus, the two non-identical properties of being human 
and being a featherless biped determine the same class. Hence, in 
order to effect the desired translation of a statement about a class, 
some device must be introduced so that in the new statement no 
one special property is mentioned tn exclusion of other properties 
which also may determine the class in question. With this explana- 


6. IMPy l8lf. 



[ i66 ] Sovereign Reason 

tion in mind, but omitting fine points, Russell’s general procedure 
may be illustrated as follows. The statement “The class of points 
in a plane is as numerous as the class of lines in a plane” is explicitly 
about two classes, one of which is certainly determined by the 
property of being a point in a plane and the other by the property 
of being a line in a plane. The approximate translation proposed for 
this statement is; 

There exist at least two properties such that one of them is formally 
equivalent to the property of being a point in a plane, the other is 
formally equivalent to the property of bemg a line in a plane, and such 
that for every individual which has the first property there is just one 
individual with the second property, and conversely. 

Although for the statement here chosen a somewhat simpler trans- 
lation of the requisite kind can be given, the indicated translation 
illustrates the sort of complexity which Russell believed is required 
in general. In any event, the proposed translation makes no mention 
of any classes; and, accordingly, the assumption that classes “exist” 
as special kinds of entities is not required. 

Let us finally state what appears to be the general pattern of the 
procedure of substituting “constructions” for “inferences.” Let 
“Si” be a statement, employed in some definite context Ti, which 
contains explicitly the expression “C,” where this expression sym- 
bolizes some entity C; that is to say, “Si” would normally be sup- 
posed to be about C. Under what circumstances is C (the entity^ 
not the expression “C”) to be regarded as a “logical construction” 
or “logical fiction?” Suppose there exist a set of entities ai, ^2, 

. . . , and a set of relations jRi, R2» • * • ; suppose, further, that a 
statement “S2” can be formed which contains mention of these 
entities and relations but does not contain the expression “C”; and 
suppose, finally, that in the context Ti the statement “S2” is logi- 
cally equivalent to “Si.” If these conditions are satisfied, C is a 
logical construction out of the specified entities and relations. It 
will be noted that the above three examples conform to this schema- 
tism. It is clear that the statement “S2” cannot, in general, be ob- 
tained from “Si” by simply replacing “C” in the latter by a more 
complex expression without altering the rest of “Si”; the formula- 
tion of “S2” involves, in general, a radical recasting of “$i.” 

3. A number of observations can now be made on Russell’s use 
of his maxim of philosophizing in his reconstruction of mathematics. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 167 ] 

Although Russell substitutes “constructions out of known entities 
for inferences to unknown entities,” he can maintain an attitude of 
theoretical neutrality with respect to the existence or non-existence 
of such things as numbers and classes. As he himself says, “When 
we refuse to assert the existence of classes we must not be supposed 
to be asserting dogmatically that there are none. We are merely 
agnostic as regards them: like Laplace, we can say, ^je n^ai pas 
besoin de cette hypothese.'^ The maxim thus expresses a prin- 
ciple of caution and economy, and the techniques which imple- 
ment it cannot by themselves help to decide what “exists” and what 
does not. Those techniques assume that certain entities and relations 
are in some sense “given.” 

It is well known, however, that in developing a mathematical 
system there is usually considerable leeway as to what materials 
may be taken as primitive and what is to be defined. From a formal 
point of view, the characterization of something as a “construction” 
must always be viewed as relative to the base selected. Accordingly, 
it seems as correct to regard the cardinal numbers as priimtive (rela- 
tive to a system, like Hilbert’s, in which certain concepts of logic 
as well as of mathematics proper are taken as basic) as it is to re- 
gard them as constructions (relative to a system, like Russell’s, in 
which concepts of logic are the sole primitives). Which base is in 
fact adopted will in general depend on matters that are not ex- 
clusively logical: upon issues of technical efficiency, upon certain 
more inclusive practical requirements, and often upon antecedent 
commitments as to what is “metaphysically” or “epistemologically” 
ultimate. From such a formal point of view, Russell’s reconstruc- 
tion of mathematics is primarily the systematization of a large body 
of propositions, in which remarkable economy is achieved in show- 
ing the various relations of dependence between different portions 
of mathematical doctrine; and Russell’s claim that the concepts and 
propositions of general logic are sufficient for developing formally 
the rest of mathematics is hardly debatable. But seen in this light, 
his technique for avoiding needless postulations is simply one device 
among others for attaining a maximum of inclusiveness and gener- 
ality with a minimum of special assumptions. From this point of 
view at least, the issue he frequently raises as to whether numbers 


7. IMP , 184. 



[ i68 ] Sovereign Reason 

and classes “exist” in some ontological sense does not appear to be 
relevant to the problem under consideration. 

On the other hand, Russell’s reconstruction of mathematics may 
also be viewed as an attempt to analyze mathematical notions so as 
to exhibit their relevance to everyday affairs and science. It is this 
point of view which is paramount when Russell declares that that 
sort of definition of cardinal number is required which will make 
possible the “interpretation” of statements like “There were twelve 
Apostles” or “London has six million inhabitants.” And he maintains 
that his logical definition of the cardinals “makes their connection 
with the actual world of countable objects intelligible.”® Accord- 
ingly, the fundamental issue which arises in this connection is 
whether Russell’s analyses state what is “meant” by mathematical 
expressions, not simply in the context of the formal development 
of mathematics, but in the context of statements about the empirical 
world; in other words, the issue is whether Russell’s analyses expli- 
cate the use of mathematical expressions in the context of procedures 
such as counting and measuring. 

Unfortunately, Russell does not always keep this issue at the 
center of his concern, and as a consequence it is often most puzzling 
to know just what he is doing when he says that he is “defining” 
the various concepts of mathematics. Thus, in commenting on the 
definition of cardinal number which he and Frege developed, he 
declares: 

The real desideratum about such a definition of number is not that 
it should represent as nearly as possible the ideas of those who have not 
gone through the analysis required in order to reach a definition, but 
Shat it should give us objects having the requisite properties. Numbers, 
in fact, must satisfy the formulae of arithmetic, any indubitable set of 
objects fulfilling this requirement may be called numbers.^ 

Russell is surely right in saying that a definition of number need not 
reproduce the “ideas” of those who use numerical expressions, 
since most people do not know how they use them. But it seems 
to me a serious blunder to maintain that “any indubitable set of 
objects” which satisfy the formulae of arithmetic may be called 
numbers— if the business of “logically constructing” numbers is to 
be something other than a purely formal exercise, and if the re- 


8. FM, Introduction to the Second Edition, vi, 

9. OKEW, 222. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 169 ] 

sultant analyses are to express the way or ways in which ‘‘number” 
is employed. From the point of view of the present approach, it is 
important to bear in mind the observation that an analysis or “logi- 
cal construction,” which is adequate for one context in which an 
expression is used, is not necessanly adequate for another context, 
and is unlikely to be adequate for all contexts. It does not follow, 
therefore, that definitions of the various numbers which are suit- 
able for developing mathematics formally and systematically are 
suitable as analyses of them in other domains where they are used. 

Two special difficulties which aggravate the analysis of mathe- 
matical concepts are worth noting in this connection. In the first 
place, many mathematical expressions are employed only within 
some more or less formalized system of mathematical statements, 
and have no clear or direct connections with statements which for- 
mulate matters in the actual world. The use of such expressions 
within the symbolic system may be governed by fairly explicit 
rules of operation, although no interpretation for those expressions 
may be feasible which would make the latter symbolical of any- 
thing known to occur in any part of the environment. In other 
words, such expressions may have an important function within 
what may be called a “calculus,” without being “in themselves” in 
any way “representative.” Many students (like Hilbert and Her- 
mann Weyl) have accordingly eschewed the doubtless “natural” 
desire to interpret them in terms of something familiar, and have 
been content to exhibit the roles which specific calculi (containing 
such expressions) play in the system of scientific formulations. In 
any event, the interpretation of such expressions as denoting en- 
tities, allegedly “constructed” out of “indubitable” elements, ap- 
pears to be a gratituitous enterprise. The second difficulty is that in 
actual practice many mathematical expressions have no precise use, 
however precisely they may be defined in terms of the basic notions 
of a formalized system. Analyses of what such expressions “mean,” 
when such analyses yield something “constructed” in a precise way 
out of definite things or operations, must therefore be viewed as 
proposals as to how those expr^ons might be used. A proposal, 
however, is not to be judged in terms of truth or falsity, but in 
terms of its convenience and effectiveness in achieving specific ob- 
jectives. And if Russell’s definitions are such proposals, as I think 
some of them are, the issue he raises with respect to them, whether 



[ 170 ] Sovereign Reason 

the “entities” corresponding to them are “inferred” or “con- 
structed,” does not appear to have much point.^^ 

One final observation. If an entity is a logical construction, then 
a symbol representing that entity is theoretically capable of elimina- 
tion from any statement in which that symbol occurs. It has already 
been noted that, if an entity can be shown to be a logical construc- 
tion, considerable economy can be effected in developing mathe- 
matics. However, it is also worth noting that a gain in economy in 
one detail may have to be bought at the price of complicating the 
structure of mathematics in other details— perhaps even at the price 
of requiring dubious assumptions concerning “the ultimate furniture 
of the world.” Now in fact some of Russell’s definitions, when these 
are taken as exhibitions of the structure of mathematical objects in 
terms of “indubitable” elements of the “actual world,” do seem to 
me to have this dubious character. If the “existence” of a real 
number is doubtful when it is conceived as a special kind of thing, 
is its “existence” better warranted when it is identified with an 
infinite series of rationals? Again, Russell is not sure that classes 
“exist.” But, in his translations of statements ostensibly about classes, 
he does not hesitate to introduce existential quantifiers with respect 
to properties—^ procedure which requires him to assume the exist- 
ence of an indeterminate range of properties. Is this assumption, 
construed in the “realistic” fashion that Russell adopts, so obvious 
that it may safely be taken as a metaphysical foundation for mathe- 
matics? I am not suggesting that Russell’s definitions are not ade- 
quate for the purposes of systematizing formal mathematics; and 
fortunately I am not required on this occasion to propose a more 
satisfactory “metaphysics” for mathematics than his. I raise these 
questions only to call attention to the complex issues which await 

10. Whether Russell’s definitions of the various kinds of numbers do expli- 
cate the use which is made of the latter m everyday affairs and science, is a 
highly debatable question. I think that his definitions of the specific finite 
cardinals do express satisfactorily at least part of what is involved in the use 
of such statements as have ten fingers,” “There is only one even prime,” 
or “New York is more than 200 nules from Boston,” although I am less 
sure than he appears to be that certain ordinal notions are not involved m 
that use, as Norman R. Campbell and Hermann Weyl have suggested. On the 
other hand, I am quite unconvinced that Russell’s analysis of the irrationals 
is the appropriate one for “interpreting” such statements as “The diagonal of 
this square is equal to the square-root of two inches.” For, although in expli- 
cating the sense of such a statement reference to a set of rational numbers is 
required, I do not think that this reference is to an infifUte series of rationals. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 171 ] 

us when we employ his supreme maxim of philosophizing in a 
metaphysical rather than a methodological spirit. 


2. 

I. Russell’s concern with the positive sciences is dominated almost 
exclusively by “the problem of the relation between the crude data 
of sense and the space, time, and matter of mathematical physics.”^^ 
Like many of his contemporaries, he has been impressed by the 
highly abstract character of physical theory, and by the prirm facie 
difference between the manifest traits of the world which are ex- 
hibited in our daily experience with it and its constitution as re- 
ported by the theoretical sciences. The theories of classical physics 
already provided ample materials for embroidering this difference; 
those theories employed such notions as that of instantaneous veloci- 
ties, point-particles, mathematically continuous motions, and per- 
fectly rigid and elastic bodies, although there appears to be nothing 
in our common experience to which these notions are applicable. 
But it was the advent of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, 
with their novel geometries and chronometries and their revolu- 
tionary conceptions of matter and causality, which supplied the 
chief stimulus to Russell’s preoccupation with the problem. 

However, the “critique of abstractions’* for which the problem 
apparently calls may take several different forms. Russell’s con- 
ception of the task of such a critique is controlled entirely by his 
view that the familiar concrete objects of daily life, no less than 
the abstract and remote entities of theoretical physics, are logical 
constructions. His approach to the problem must be clearly differ- 
entiated from so-called “operational” or “functional” analyses of 
scientific concepts— analyses which take “common-sense” knowl- 
edge and “common-sense” objects for granted. Something must 
therefore be said at the outset about the general pattern of Russell’s 
views. 

Like most philosophers, Russell believes that any discussion of 
the relation between theoretical physics and experience starts with 
admitting the familiar facts of common knowledge. But he maintains 
that on the one hand this knowledge is vague, complex, and inexact, 
and that on the other hand some types of its “data” are more certain 
and more “indubitable” than others. In order to obtain a secure 


II. OKEW^ viii. 



[ 172 ] Sovereign Reason 

foundation for knowledge we must therefore separate out those 
beliefs which are “inferred” from or “caused” by other beliefs, from 
the beliefs which are both logically and psychologically prior to all 
others. The “hardest” or “most certain” of all data (that is, data 
which “resist the solvent influence of critical reflection”) are the 
truths of logic and the particular facts of sense.^^ The logical start- 
ing point of a philosophical inquiry into physics must therefore be 
with our immediate, direct perceptions. The problem of the rela- 
tion of theoretical physics to the facts of experience can therefore 
be amplified as follows: 

The laws of physics are believed to be at least approximately true, 
though they are not logically necessary, the evidence for them is 
empirical. All empirical evidence consists, in the last analysis, of per- 
ceptions; thus the world of physics must be, in some sense, continuous 
with the world of perceptions, since it is the latter which supphes the 
evidence for the laws of physics. . . . 

The evidence for the truth of physics is that our perceptions occur as 
the laws of physics would lead us to expect— e.g., we see an eclipse 
when the astronomers say there will be an eclipse. But physics never 
says anything about perceptions, it does not say that we shah see an 
eclipse, but something about the sun and the moon. The passage from 
what physics asserts to the expected perception is left vague and casual; 
it has none of the mathematical precision belonging to physics itself. 
We must therefore find an interpretation of physics which gives a due 
place to perceptions, if not, we have no right to appeal to the empirical 
world.^® 

Russell’s problem has therefore a two-fold aspect. One phase of 
it consists in finding an “interpretation” for physics which will 
make its propositions relevant to the crude materials of sense; and, 
as will appear, this concern leads Russell to adopt the view that all 
the objects of common-sense and developed science are logical con- 
structions out of events— owe perceptions being a proper sub-class 
of the class of events. The other phase of the problem consists in 
justifying the truth-claims of physics; and this concern leads Rus- 
sell to examine what data may serve as the most indubitable foun- 
dation for our knowledge, and to a discussion of the causal theory 
of perception as the ground for assuming the existence of events 
that are not perceptions. The two aspects of the problem are not 
independent, since the resolution of the second depends in part on 

12. OKEW, 75, 

13. AM, 6-7. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 173 ] 

the answer to the first, whereas the first requires that the “indubi- 
table entities” (which is the business of the second to specify) are 
already available. However, in the remainder of the present section 
I shall briefly examine some of Russell’s views on perceptive knowl- 
edge; the discussion of his analysis of scientific objects will be left 
for the final section. 

2. According to Russell, the original datum of experience con- 
sists of perceptions which are held to be known “non-inferentially”; 
included in this original datum are such items as specific shapes 
and colors, and relations like something being earlier than some- 
thing else or something being above something else. Common-sense 
objects like tables and books, on the other hand, must be regarded 
as in some sense “inferred.” They are said to be “inferred,” not 
because we have actually inferred them, but because our knowl- 
edge of them rests upon correlations between perceptions. These 
correlations are not invariable, and since we may be led to enter- 
tain false expectations by relying on them we do not “genuinely 
know” common-sense objects.^^ The proper comment upon this 
conclusion, so it seems to me, is to insist that we sometimes do know 
physical objects like tables and chairs, in a perfectly good and fa- 
miliar sense of “know,” in spite of the fact that we may sometimes 
be deceived about them. But this is not the issue I now wish to 
raise, important though it is. The question I want to put is whether, 
in distinguishing between perceptions as primitive and physical 
objects as derivative from perceptions, Russell is doing logic or 
psychology. Russell’s problem certainly requires the distinction to 
be one of logic, for 'his aim is to define physical objects in terms of 
sensory qualities. From this point of view it is clearly irrelevmt 
whether in the genesis of our knowledge the apprehension of dis- 
crete sensory qualities comes before or after the apprehension of 
configurations of qualities. Russell himself frequently makes it plain 
that it is not questions of psychology with which he is concerned.^® 
Nevertheless, he also says that the primitive data of knowledge must 
not only be logically but also psychologically prior to the knowl- 
edge he regards as derivative. Thus, he declares that the “space” 


14. AM, 186. 

15. See, for example, his quite explicit statement on this point in his “Pro- 
fessor Dewey’s ‘Essays in E^cperimental Logic,”* The Joztrml of FMlosopby, 
VoL XVI (1919), 8 fi. 



[174] Sovereign Reason 

into which all the percepts of one person fit is a ‘‘constructed space, 
the construction being achieved during the first months of hfeP'^^ 
And here Russell is obviously talking psychology. However that 
may be, the empirical evidence drawn from modem psychology is 
certainly unfavorable to the notion that perceptions are psychologi- 
cally primitive. On the contrary, that evidence supports the view 
that sensory qualities and relations are obtained only as the end- 
products of a deliberate process of discrimination and analysis, a 
process which is carried on within the framework of a “common- 
sense” knowledge of physical objects. 

What reasons are there for regarding perceptions as the most 
indubitable data of knowledge^ As far as one can ascertam, Russell 
rests his case on the simple dictum that what is more primitive is 
also the more certain. Thus, he asserts that 

When we reflect upon the beliefs which are logically but not psycho- 
logically primitive, we find that, unless they can on reflection be deduced 
by a logical process from beliefs which are also psychologically primi- 
tive, our confidence in their truth tends to dimimsh the more we think 
about them. 

And he concludes that “There is . . . more need of justifying our 
psychologically derivative beliefs than of justifying those that are 
primitive.”^’^ Why should this be so? Russell’s answer is: because 
the derivative beliefs are non-demonstratively “inferred” from the 
primitive ones and are therefore less certain than the premises from 
which they are drawn, and because a belief is the more certain the 
“shorter” is the causal route from the cause of a belief to the belief.^^ 

These views seem to me to rest on unsatisfactory evidence. Russell 
calls those data “hard” which resist the solvent influence of critical 
reflection. But in order to undertake such reflection, it is necessary 
to employ some principles in terms of which the attribution of 
“hardness” to specific data is to be evaluated; and such principles, 
if their authority is to count for anything, must be better warranted 
than the materials under judgment. However, such principles can 
themselves be warranted only by the outcome of our general experi- 

16. AM, ZS2, italics not in the text, 

17. OKEW, 74-5. 

18. IMT, 164, 200. He also says* . A given reaction may be regarded 
as knowledge of various different occurrences. . . , The nearer our starting 
point [in the process leading to a certain event in the brain] is to the brain, 
the more accurate becomes the knowledge displayed in our reactions.” F, 132. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 175 ] 

cnce, and their certainty—of whatever degree this may be-cannot 
therefore be a consequence of their being psychologically primitive. 
RusselFs entire argument, moreover, is based on a principle of 
reasoning which I find most debatable—the principle that the con- 
clusion of a non-demonstrative inference cannot be more certain 
than any of its premisses. Quite the contrary appears to be the 
case in general. To take a simple illustration, if a number of wit- 
nesses testify to the occurrence of some event, the proposition that 
the event did occur may be more certain than any single item in 
the testimony, provided those items are independent. It is indeed 
partly in terms of the principle embodied in this example that the 
credibility of scientific theories is augmented. And if one accepts it 
as generally valid, little ground remains for the view that our psy- 
chologically primitive beliefs are also our most certain ones.^^ 

Russell is not unaware of how duEcult it is to identify primitive, 
^‘non-inferred” data. Thus, he notes that the records of any observa- 
tion or experiment always involve an ‘"interpretation” of the facts 
by the help of a certain amount of theory. He also acknowledges 
that “perceptions of which we are not sufficiently conscious to 
express them in words are scientifically negligible^ our premisses 
must be fact which we have explicitly noted.”^ And elsewhere he 
insists that “a form of words is a social phenomenon,” so that a 
person must know the language of which it is a part, as well as be 
exposed to certain stimuli, if he is to make true assertions.^^ The 
admission of the socially conditioned character of significant per- 
ception would normally be considered as a good ground for reject- 
ing the view that perceptions are psychologically primitive. Never- 
theless, Russell believes that it is possible to whittle away the 
element of interpretation in perceptive knowledge, and that “we 
can approach asymptotically to the pure datum.”^ But if pure data 
can be reached only asymptotically— and that means they are never 
actually reached— why is it important to try to base all our knowl- 
edge upon them? Moreover, Russell admits that some “interpreta- 

19. On some of the diJSSculdes in the view that the “shortness” of the causal 
route between a belief and its cause can be taken as a measure of the cer- 
tainty of the belief, see my “Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth ” The Journal 
of Philosophy, Vol. XXXVIH (1941), and reprinted in this volume. 

20. AM, 200, 

21. F, 262. 

22. IMT, 155. 



[ I j6] Sovereign Reason 

tions” which accompany perceptions “can only be discovered by 
careful theory, and can never be made introspectively obvious”; 
and he thinks that such interpretations, at any rate, “ought to be 
included in the perception.”^ One cannot therefore help askmg: 
If our actual data involve an element of “interpretation” and “in- 
ference,” how in principle can we exclude physical objects as ob- 
jects of knowledge on the ground that physical objects involve an 
element of “inference”^^ The distinction between the primitive and 
the “inferred” certainly shows the mark of being irrelevant to a 
working epistemology. 

In any event, by his mixing up questions of logic with those of 
psychology Russell compromises at the very outset his program of 
exhibiting common-sense and scientific objects as logical construc- 
tions. That program presumably requires the analysis of these ob- 
jects as structures of elements which are experientially accessible. 
If such an analysis is to be more than a formal logical exercise, those 
elements cannot simply be postulated to exist; and Russell’s psy- 
chologically primitive “pure data” apparently have just this status. 

3. Russell introduces another distracting confusion when, in 
order to estabhsh the importance of regarding physical objects as 
constructions, he argues the case for an epistemological dualism and 
against “naive realism.” The truth or falsity of epistemological dual- 
ism does not seem to me germane to the question whether physical 
objects are analyzable into structures of specified entities. I shall 
therefore comment only briefly on the following views central to 
Russell’s epistemology: that our percepts are located in our brains; 
that the causal theory of perception is the ground for inferring the 
existence of unperceived events; and that our knowledge of physical 
objects is “inferred” from percepts in our brain. 

Russell maintains that, although it may be natural to suppose that 
what a physiologist sees when he is observing a living brain is in the 
brain he is observing, in fact “if we are speaking of physical space, 
what the physiologist sees is in his own brain,”^^ This seems to me 
incredibly wrong if the word “see” is being used in the ordinary 
sense in which we talk about seeing a physical object; and it is this 
ordinary sense of the word which Russell is employing when he 
supposes a physiologist to be observing a brain. There might indeed 

23. AM ^ 189. 

24. P, 140. 



The Philosophy of Bertrafid Russell [ 177 ] 

be a sense of “see” in which I see my own brain, though I have not 
the slightest inkling as to what that sense is. I do know, however, 
that I have never seen any portion of my own brain, and that I 
have seen many physical objects— where the statement that I have 
not seen one but seen the other is to be understood in the customary 
sense of “see.” To deny the facts expressed by the statement seems 
to be absurd; and such a denial can be understood only if we sup- 
pose that the person making the denial is misusing language. Alore- 
over, such facts seem to me basic for every sound epistemology and 
every sound interpretation of science; and, however difficult it may 
be to do so, the findings of physics and physiology must be inter- 
preted so as to square with them. 

The evidence Russell offers for the causal theory of perception 
derives whatever plausibility it has from the tacit assumptions of 
common-sense knowledge; accordingly, it is not this theory which 
can justify such common-sense assumptions as that our perceptions 
may have unperceived causes. Russell’s chief argument for that 
theory consists in showing that if we accept the theory we can 
formulate the course of events in “simple causal laws.” For example, 
he declares that if many people see and hear a gun fired, the further 
they are situated from it the longer is the interval between the 
seeing and the hearing. He thinks it is therefore “natural to suppose 
that the sound travels over the intervening space, in which case some- 
thing must be happening even in places where there is no one with 
ears to hear.”^^ But why does it seem “natural” to suppose this? 
Does not the “naturalness” receive its support from the experimental 
confirmations which are found for such assumptions in the context 
of our manipulating physical objects^ Russell also thinks that, al- 
though the phenomenalist view (that there are no unperceived 
events) is not logically impossible, it is an unplausible view, because 
it is incompatible with physical determinism,^® But why is the as- 
sumption unplausible that “imaginary” or “fictitious” entities are 
causally eflScacious? If the unplausibility does not rest upon the 
findings of disciplined experience, embodied in common-sense knowl- 
edge, upon what can it rest? 

Though Russell speaks much of “inferring” things, it is not clear 
in what sense he believes physical objects to be “inferred” from 

25. AM , 209. 

26. AM , 214. 



[ 178 ] Sovereign Reason 

perceptions. He uses the term ‘Werence” in at least the following 
distinct ways: in the ordinary sense of logically deducing one prop- 
osition from another; in the familiar sense of asserting a proposition 
on evidence which makes that proposition probable; in the sense 
in which something which is perceived with an ^‘accompanying 
interpretation” is obtained from something else that is supposed to 
be perceived directly or without interpretation, and finally, m the 
sense in which something that is a logical construction is obtained 
from entities out of which it is constructed. It is evident that when 
Russell says that the sun is inferred from our percepts, he does not 
mean that it is inferred in either of the first two senses specified, 
and he repeatedly asserts that he does not mean it in these senses. On 
the other hand, he declares that 

So long as naive realism remained tenable, perception was knowledge 
of a physical object, obtained through the senses, not by inference. But 
in accepting the causal theory of perception we have committed our- 
selves to the view that perception gives no immediate knowledge of a 
physical object, but at best a datum for inference.^'^ 

In this passage Russell is apparently using the third sense of “infer- 
nece”; and when he uses the term in this way he sometimes talks of 
an inference as an unconscious physiological process. But elsewhere 
he also says that “Modem physics reduces matter to a set of events. 
^ , . The events that take the place of matter in the old sense are 
inferred from their effect on eyes, photographic plates, and other 
instruments. . . And in this passage what is “inferred” is a 
physical object, viewed as a construction out of such events as per- 
ceptions. Russell does not therefore distinguish between the last 
two senses of “inference” listed above, and as a consequence it is 
difficult to extract a coherent formulation of how physical objects 
are inferred from percepts. However that may be, if our knowledge 
of the sun is “inferred” in the third sense of the term, the inference 
is presumably grounded in the causal theory of perception, and 
therefore in the procedures involved in common-sense knowledge 
of things. On the other hand, if that knowledge is “inferential” in 

27. AM, 218, Cf. also: “Our knowledge of the physical world is not at first 
inferenrial, but this is only because we take our precepts to be the physical 
world.” P, 130* 

28. P, 157. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 179 ] 

the fourth sense, the fact that the sun is a logical construction (if 
it is a fact) in no way prejudices the claim that we do have knowl- 
edge of it; for the exhibition of the sun as a construction out of 
events like perceptions obviously requires knowledge of the sun. 


3 - 

I. It is a common error of Russell’s critics to interpret his view 
that the physical world is a logical construction, as if he intended 
to deny that there are physical objects in the ordinary sense of this 
phrase. For this misunderstanding he is at least partly to blame. 
Thus he declares: ‘‘Common sense imagines that when it sees a 
table it sees a table. This is gross delusion.”^^ Again, commenting 
on Dr. Johnson’s refutation of Berkeley, he maintains that “If he 
had known that his foot never touched the stone, and that both were 
only complicated systems of wave-motions, he might have been 
less satisfied with his refutation.”^^ And elsewhere he says that on 
the view he is recommending, “the ‘pushiness’ of matter disappears 
altogether. . . . ‘Matter’ is a convenient formula for describing 
what happens where it isn’t.”^^ 

There are indeed several not always compatible tendencies strug- 
gling for mastery in Russell’s use of his supreme maxim for philos- 
ophizing. One of them is that represented by the conception of 
experience according to which the objects of what is immediately 
“known” are in the brain; a second is the view that if something is 
a logical construction, it is v)e who have constructed it in time; 
another is stated by the conception that $0 long as some “indubitable 
set of objects” can be specified which wiU satisfy given formulae, 
then any object in that set may be substituted for the “inferred” 
object satisfying those formulae; and a fourth is the view that an 
object is a construction when it is analyzable into a structure of 
identifiable elements. 

It has already been argued that the first of these tendencies is 
essentially irrelevant to (or at any rate, can be kept distinct from) 
the use of Russell’s maxim. The second is often explicitly disavowed 
by Russell himself, though he often betrays his disavowal. But be- 

29. ABC ^ 213. 

30. P, 279. 

31. P, 159. 



[ i8o ] Sovereign Reason 

fore examining the incidence of the remaining two tendencies upon 
his reconstruction of physical theory, I want to comment on the 
passages cited from RusseE in the opening paragraph of this sec- 
tion. Is it a delusion when, under appropriate circumstances, we 
claim to see a table? A table may indeed be a logical construction; 
but in the sense in which we ordinarily use the words ‘‘see” and 
“table,” it may be quite true that we do see a table, this mode of 
expressing what is happening is the appropriate way of putting the 
matter. Again, if when Dr. Johnson kicked a stone his foot never 
touched the stone, what did his foot do? To say that his foot never 
touched the stone, because both his foot and the stone were systems 
of radiation, is to misuse language, for in the specified context the 
words “foot,” “stone,” “kicked,” and “touched” are being so used 
that it is correct to say Dr. Johnson kicked a stone and therefore his 
foot touched it. To be sure, under some other circumstances, and 
for the sake of certain ends, it might be advisable to use a different 
language in describing what had happened. But it obviously cannot 
be wrong to employ ordinary language in accordance with ordi- 
nary usage. And finaUy, it seems to me grotesque to say that the 
“pushiness” of matter can disappear as a consequence of a new 
analysis or redefinition of matter. We have learned to apply the 
word “pushy” to certain identifiable characteristics of material 
objects; and such a use of the word is correct, simply because that 
is the usage that had been established for it. Whatever may be the 
outcome of analyzing material objects, their identifiable properties 
win remain their identifiable properties, and it will be correct to 
apply the standardized expressions to them. It will certaintly not 
be correct to designate a physical body as a formula. 

2 . Let us turn to RusselFs re-interpretation of physics. The first 
question I want to ask is what marks, if any, distinguish something 
which is a construction from something that is not. Russell seems 
to suggest at least two. One is the suggestion that something is a 
construction when it has properties which satisfy some mathematical 
formula or equation. He says, for example, 

The electron has very convenient properties, and is therefore prob- 
ably a logical structure upon which we concentrate attention just be- 
cause of these properties. A rather haphazard set of particulars may be 
capable of being coEected into groups each of which has very agreeable 
smooth mathematical properties; but we have no right to suppose Nature 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ i8i ] 

so kind to the mathematician as to have created particulars with Just 
such properties as he would wish to find 

One doesn’t know how seriously to take such statements, especially 
since they imply, what is questionably the case, that it is we who 
invariably manufacture the properties which are convenient for 
the purposes of mathematical physics. It is certainly not evident 
what nght we have to suppose that we have no right to suppose 
that Nature created at least some of them. It is one thing to say 
that for the sake of developing mathematical physics we have iso- 
lated certain features of things and ignored others; it is quite an- 
other thing to maintain that what we have selected we have also 
manufactured. Moreover, it is not clear w^hy, on this criterion, the 
events out of which electrons and other objects are said to be con- 
structions should not themselves be regarded as constructions. After 
all, as will be seen presently, they too have remarkably smooth 
mathematical properties: they fall into groups having exquisitely 
neat internal structures. 

The second suggestion is more important. According to it, some- 
thing is a construction when it is complex. Accordingly, since physi- 
cal bodies as well as scientific objects like electrons are analyzable 
—indeed, on Russell’s view into relations between ultimate simples— 
whereas perceptions and other events are not, the former are con- 
structions out of the latter. The “ultimate furniture of the world” 
thus consists of a very large, perhaps infinite, number of events 
which have various specific relations to each other. When described 
in terms of spatio-temporal characteristics, these “particulars” are 
assumed to have quite small spatial and temporal dimensions. More- 
over, some of these particulars (though not all) are perceived, and 
at least some of their qualities and relations are also immediately 
apprehended. Events, their simple qualities and their relations, are 
thus the building materials, the “crude data,” in terms of which 
physics is to be “interpreted.” 

Russell admits that, although he beheves his particulars are simples, 
in the sense that they have no “parts” or internal “structure,” it is 
impossible to prove once for all that they are such. And although 
he also admits that simples are not directly experienced “but known 
only inferentially as the limit of analysis,” he maintains it is desir- 

32. AM, 319- At another place Russell proposes as a supplement to Occam’s 
razor the principle 'What is logically convenient to be artificial.” AM, 290. 



[ iSz ] * Sovereign Reason 

able to exhibit objects as constructions out of simples. His belief 
in the existence of simples rests on self-evidence: “It seems obvious 
to me . . . that what is complex must be composed of simples, though 
the number of constituents may be infinite.”^^ Against such a view 
it is arguable that simplictiy is a relative and systemic notion, and 
that the justification for taking anything to be a simple rests on the 
clarification, the systematization, or the control of subject-matter 
which follows from a given mode of analysis. The issue is, however, 
not of great importance for the sequel. An issue of more serious 
concern is raised by Russell’s admission that simples can be known 
only as the limits of analysis. For in the first place, he must also 
admit that we cannot in consequence literally begin with simples, 
trace through sequentially the complex patterns of their interrela- 
tions, and so finally reach the familiar objects of daily life. And 
in the second place, it becomes difficult to understand, even if we 
did succeed in exhibiting objects as constructions out of simples, 
just what such an analysis contributes to bridging the gulf between 
the propositions of physics and the familiar world of daily experi- 
ence. However, Russell’s subsequent analyses are not vitally affected 
by these doubts: whether events are ultimate particulars or not, the 
important part of his claim is that at least some of them are per- 
ceptions, and that they are relevant to the analysis only because of 
their relations to other things, and not because of a demonstrated 
lack of internal structure.^^ 

One point is clear: RusseU does not exhibit the logical structure 
of the physical world entirely in terms of entities which he regards 
as “known,” since his particulars include events that are not percep- 
tions. Such events are held by him to be “inferred,” largely on the 
strength of the causal theory of perception and in order to avoid 
the “unplausible” consequences of a radical phenomenalism. Rus- 
sell’s own remark on the inclusion of unperceived (and therefore 
“inferred”) events into the ultimate furniture of the world is one 
that many of his readers must have whispered to themselves: “If 

33. CBP, 375. 

34. Russell declares in this connection “Atoms were formerly particulars; 
now they have ceased to be so. But that has not falsified the chemical proposi- 
tions that can be enunciated without taking account of their structure.” 
AMy 278. The first sentence in this passage is seriously misleading, since it 
suggests that whether something is a particular or not depends on the state 
of our knowledge, and that therefore a construction is something made by us. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 183 ] 

we have once admitted nnperceived events, there is no very ob- 
vious reason for picking and choosing among the events which 
physics leads us to infer.”^® How many needless excursions into 
sterile epistemological speculations could have been avoided if 
this remark had been taken seriously! But the remark does make it 
plain that the significance of exhibiting things as constructions 
does not consist in circumventing the need for making inferences 
or in denying the existence of physical objects. The remark shows 
that the importance of the enterprise hes in analyzing or defining 
the sense of such expressions as “physical object,” “point,” “elec- 
tron,” and so on. 

3. Russell’s definition of physical object as a class of classes of 
events, related by certain laws of “perspective” and causal laws, 
is well known. It is unnecessary to dwell upon it here. It is suffi- 
cient to note that his analysis is motivated by the desire to show 
the otiose character of the traditional assumption of permanent, 
indestructible substances which mysteriously underlie the flux of 
events. I shall, however, examine his analysis of points (or point- 
instants), in order to suggest what seems to me a fundamental 
criticism of the approach to the “critique of abstractions” which 
Russell credits to, and shares with, Whitehead. 

There is an obvious need for an analysis of points, if we are to 
become clear about the way in which the formulations of theo- 
retical science are applied to matters of concrete experience. The 
term occurs in physical geometry, mathematical dynamics, and 
many other theories; and these theones are admittedly successful 
in organizing and predicting the course of events. At the same 
time, there seems to be nothing in our experience which corre- 
sponds to the term. The postulation of points as unique types of 
existences will not solve the problem, since such a postulation does 
not answer the question just how points are connected with the 
gross materials of experience. As Russell says, “What we know 
about points is that they are useful technically— so useful that we 
must seek an interpretation of the propositions in which, symboli- 
cally, they occur.” His own answer to the problem consists in 
specifying certain “structures having certain geometrical prop- 
erties and composed of the raw material of the physical world.”®® 

35. AM, 325. 

36. AM, 290, 294. 



[184] Sovereign Reasofi 

In outline, Russell’s definition of point-instants is as follows: 
Every event is “compresent” with a number of others; i.e., every 
event has a common “region” with an indefinite number of other 
events, although the latter do not necessarily overlap with each 
other. If five events are compresent with each other, they are said 
to be related by the relation called “co-punctuality.” If in a group 
of five or more events every set of five events has the relation of 
co-punctuality, the group is said to be co-punctuaL And finally, 
if a co-punctual group cannot be enlarged without losing its co- 
punctual character, the group is called a “point.” It only remains to 
show that points so defined exist; and to show this it is sufficient 
to assume that “all events (or at least all events co-punctual with 
a given co-punctual quintet) can be welI-ordered”~an assumption 
that Russell proceeds to make.^'^ And since it turns out that points 
thus specified satisfy all the usual mathematical requirements, Rus- 
sell believes he has satisfactorily exhibited the logical construction 
of points. 

Nevertheless, the analysis is to me very perplexing. Let me first 
call attention to an observation already made. Events, in the sense 
in which Russell uses the term, are the termini of analysis, and if 
they are apprehended by us at all they are not apprehended as 
psychological primitives. In this sense, therefore, events are not 
the “raw materials” of adult experience, whatever else might be 
the case for infants and other animals. If a point is what Russell 
defines it to be, the physicist who wishes to make a concrete appli- 
cation of statements about points must therefore first proceed to 
isolate the material (events) in terms of which points are to be 
eventually identified. In order to carry through this process, the 
physicist will certainly have to make use of the distinctions and 
findings of gross, macroscopic experience. But this is not all. 
Assuming that events have been isolated, co-punctual groups of 
events must next be found. However, since a co-punctual group 
may have an indefinite number of event-members, the assertion 
that a given group is co-punctual will in general be a hypothesis. 
The situation does not become easier when the physicist next tries 
to identify those co-punctual groups which are points: the assertion 
that a class of events is a point will be a conjecture for which only 

37. AM, 299. A class is said to be well-ordered if its members can be serially 
arranged m such a way that every sub-class in this series has a first member* 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 185 ] 

the most mcomplete sort of evidence can be available. If, as Rus- 
sell believes, the existence of physical objects involves “inference,” 
those inferences pale in comparison with the inferences required 
to assert the existence of points. 

I now come to the serious basis of my perplexity. Russell’s defi- 
nition exhibits no concern whatever for the way in which physi- 
cists actually use expressions like “point.” In the first place, it is 
certainly not evident that physicists do in fact apply the term to 
structures of events. On the contrary, there is some evidence to 
show that they employ it in a somewhat different fashion, using 
it in connection with bodies identifiable in gross experience and 
whose magnitudes vary from case to case according to the needs 
of specific problems. To be sure, the application of the term is 
frequently sloppy and vague, and its rules cannot in general be 
made precise. But the vagueness and sloppiness are facts which a 
philosophy of science must face squarely, and they cannot be cir- 
cumvented by an ingenious but essentially irrelevant proposal as 
to how the term might be used. 

This brings me to another phase of the difficulty It has already 
been noted that Russell does not always distinguish between two 
distinct views as to what is required in order to exhibit the logical 
structure of an object* on one of them, the logical construction of 
an object is exhibited when some “indubitable set of objects” is 
specified which satisfies a given formula; on the other view, the 
logical construction of an object is exhibited when statements 
about that object are so interpreted that the interpretations make 
expheit how those statements are used (or alternately, what those 
statements “mean”). The difference between these views is pro- 
found; and if the supreme maxim of philosophizing is to eventuate 
in clarification and not simply in a highly ingenious symbolic con- 
struction, it is the second view which must be adopted. Certainly 
Russell himself must have imagined himself to be acting upon this 
second view when he claimed that his account of the cardinal 
numbers made intelligible their application to the world of count- 
able objects. On the other hand, his definition of points and other 
scientific objects conforms only to the requirements of the first 
view, and thereby offers no indication of the connection between 
the abstractions of physics and the familiar world. Like the defi- 
nitions given by "Whitehead with the aid of the principle of ex- 



[ i86 ] Sovereign Reason 

tensive abstraction, Russell’s definitions formulate what are in 
effect another set of abstract formulae, quite out of touch with the 
accessible materials of the world. His “interpretation” of the equa- 
tions of physics thus yields only another mathematical system, 
with respect to which the same problems that initiated the entire 
analysis emerge once more.^^ 

4. One further set of general issues remains to be discussed. One 
of these issues arises in connection with Russell’s redefinition of 
matter (common-sense objects, electrons, etc.) so as to avoid the 
hypothesis of an underlying permanent substance. He declares: 

The events out of which we have been constructing the physical 
world are very different from matter as traditionally understood. Matter 
was expected to be impenetrable and indestructible. The matter that we 
construct is impenetrable as a result of definition: the matter in a place 
IS all the events that are there, and consequendy no other event or piece 
of matter can be there. This is a tautology, not a physical fact. . . . 
Indestructibility, on the other hand, is an empirical property, believed 
to be approximately but not exacdy possessed by matter. . . 

And elsewhere he asserts that “Impenetrability used to be a noble 
property of matter, a kind of Declaration of Independence; now 
it is a merely tautological result of the way in which matter is 
defined.”^® Russell is of course right in calling attention to the 
fact that many propositions in physics as well as in everyday dis- 
course are not contingent, since they are definitional in nature. It 
is not always clear which propositions have this character, and 

38. One need only compare Russell’s definitions of points with such analy- 
ses as those of Mach concerning mass and temperature or those of N. R. 
Campbell concerning physical measurement, to appreciate the difference be- 
tween an analysis which is quasi-mathematics and an analysis which is directed 
toward actual usage. 

It is also interesting to note that Russell criticizes one of Eddington’s inter- 
pretations of certain equations in relativity theory in a spirit analogous to the 
criticism which the above paragraph makes of him. Eddington reads these 
equations to signify that electrons adjust their dimensions to the radius of 
curvature of the universe, and maintains that this adjustment can be ascer- 
tained by ‘‘direct measurement,” Russell’s remarks are as follows: “Now the 
electron may be, theoretically, a perfect spatial unit, but we certainly cannot 
compare its size with that of larger bodies directly^ without assuming any 
previous physical knowledge. It seems that Prof. Eddington is postulating an 
ideal observer, who can see electrons just as directly as . . . we can see a 
metre rod. In short his ‘direct measurement’ is an operation as abstract and 
theoretical as his mathematical symbolism.” AM, 92, 

39. AM, 385. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 187 ] 

the difSculty in identifying them arises partly from the fact that 
the body of our knowledge can be organized in different ways. 
For example, if the equality in weight of two objects is defined in 
terms of their being in equihbrium when placed at the extremities 
of a lever which is supported at its mid-point, the law of the lever 
for this individual case is a truistic consequence of this mode of 
measuring weights. But if the principle of the lever is now a 
definition, the law of spring balances (Hooke’s law) is not, and 
is empirically contingent. It is, however, possible to define the 
equality of weights in terms of Hooke’s law, so that, although 
this law now functions as part of a definition, the law of the 
lever acquires the status of a contingent physical principle. Ac- 
cordingly, to say that a law is a convention or tautology re- 
quires supplementation by a specification of its function in a 
particular systematization of physics, where the system of phys- 
sics as a whole is not itself accepted on definitional grounds. 
It is thus not obvious that in every use of the words “im- 
penetrability” and “matter,” the impenetrability of matter is a 
logically necessary truth. For example, it is an empirical fact that 
a mixture of equal volumes of alcohol and water occupies a volume 
less than the arithmetical sum of the two, whereas a mixture of 
two equal volumes of water occupies a volume equal to this sum. 
If the concept of impenetrability is apphed to this case, the im- 
penetrability of matter appears to be a contingent truth. The point 
is, of course, that an “interpretation” of physics which leads to 
equating a logically necessary proposition with one that is con- 
tingent cannot be correct.^^ 

41. Russell is often careless in some of his judgments as to which proposi- 
tions are defimtional. His definition of physical object leads him to say that 
“Things are those series of aspects which obey the laws of physics,” (OKEW, 
1 17), from which it would seem to follow that the laws of physics are defini- 
tions. Indeed, he does say that “Almost all the ‘great pnnciples’ of tradinonal 
physics turn out to be like the ‘great law’ that there are always three feet to 
a yard,” (ABC, 221). This is palpably absurd when taken without senous 
qualifications, and in this connection one must reramd Russell of one of his 
own jibes agamst certain philosophers “Dr. Schiller says that the external 
world was first discovered by a low manne ammal he calls ‘Grumps,’ who 
swallowed a bit of rock that disagreed with him, and argued that he would 
not have given himself such a pam, and therefore there must be an external 
world. One is tempted to think that, at the time when Professor Dewey wrote, 
many people in the newer countries had not yet made the disagreeable experi- 
ence which Grumps made. Meanwhile, whatever accusation pragmatists may 
bring, I shall conanue to protest that it was not I who made the world.” hi 



[ i88 ] Sovereign Reason 

A second general issue arises in connection with a technical de- 
tail in Russell’s interpretation of physics. If the objects of theoreti- 
cal physics are ail constructions, then the symbols referring to 
them in the statements of physics are theoretically eliminable. Un- 
fortunately, Russell has not formulated the translations of the 
requisite sort for specific statements which occur in treatises (e g., 
statements like “Zinc arsenite is insoluble m water”), although he 
has of course indicated the general procedure to be followed in 
constructing such translations. There are, however, fairly good 
reasons for doubting whether the elimination of symbols for con- 
structs can be carried through without introducing assumptions of 
a dubious character. These reasons are based on the fact that in 
various parts of mathematics as well as in the empirical sciences 
certain expressions are usually so defined that in general they can- 
not be eliminated by the help of methods customarily accepted. 
For example, so-called “functor-expressions” like “the sum of,” 
are often defined recursively, so that such expressions cannot be 
eliminated from statements like “The sum of x and y is equal to 
the sum of y and xP And if the so-called “dispositional predicates,” 
like “soluble,” are introduced into physics by the help of condi- 
tional definitions, as Carnap has suggested, an analogous difiSculty 
arises with respect to them. To be sure, the desired elimination can 
be effected, provided we are willing to employ variables of a 
sufficiently high type; but the use of such variables appears to in- 
volve an “ontology” which it is not easy to accept. In particular, 
if we recall Russell’s definition of classes and his view that a physi- 
cal body is a class of classes of events, a statement about a body 
must finally be replaced by a statement about a property of prop- 
erties— that is, about a property which is at least of type two. But 
does the assumption that there is such a property contribute much 
toward “assimilating” physics to the crude materials of perception? 
It seems to me, therefore, that, instead of making the elimination 
of symbols for constructs the goal of the logical analysis of physics, 

‘‘Professor Dewey’s ‘Essays in Experimental Logic,’ ” The Journal of Phlos- 
ophy^ Vol. XVI (1919), 26. On the^ other hand, Russell himself recognizes 
the limitations m the view that physics is a huge tautology. In a penetrating 
brief cntique of Eddington, he notes that the allegedly tautological character 
of the principles of the conservation of mass and of momentum holds only 
“in the deductive system [of physics]: in their empirical meanings these laws 
are by no means logical necessities.” AM, 89. 



The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell [ 189 ] 

a more reasonable and fruitful objective would be the following: 
to render explicit the pattern of interconnections between con- 
structs and observations, on the strength of which these latter can 
function as relevant evidence for theories about the former. 

I have been stressing throughout this essay the hmitations of 
Russell’s approach to the logical problems of science, and I have 
not thought it worthwhile to underscore their well-known ex- 
cellencies. No student of his writings can fail to acknowledge the 
great service Russell’s analyses have rendered to an adequate under- 
standing of the mathematical sciences. He has made plam the highly 
selective character of physical theories, as well as the intricate 
transformations and reorganizations of sensory material w^hich are 
involved in their use. He has exhibited the semi-arbitrary char- 
acter of many symbolic constructions and the definitional nature 
of many physical propositions; and he has devised pow^erful tech- 
niques for isolating, and in some measure reducing, such arbitrari- 
ness and conventionality. Russell has not said the last word upon 
these matters; but he has certainly inspired a great multitude of 
students to try to say a better one. If the example of his own splen- 
did devotion to independent thinking counts for anything, it is 
safe to beheve that he would not prefer to have a diJSferent estimate 
placed upon his efforts. 



11 

Mr. Russell 
on Meaning and Truth 


TThe ostensible aim of Mr. Russell’s latest book^— the substance of 
his William James Lectures at Harvard— is to specify" what is meant 
by ‘‘empirical evidence” and to determine what the connections are 
between such evidence and materially true propositions. But his 
long and repetitious discussion of these questions meanders over a 
large territory and touches upon most of the traditional problems 
in the theory of knowledge. In this review I wish to examine a few 
of the issues he raises. 

I. 

Mr. Russell’s entire discussion is controlled by a fundamental 
distinction he draws between two types of inquiry frequently in- 

I. An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. Bertrand Russell. New York. W. W. 
Norton & Company, 1940. 445 pp. $3.75. 

[ 190 1 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 191 1 

eluded in the theory of knowledge. The first aims to discover what 
sort of phenomenon knowledge is and how it is acquired, and it 
proceeds by studying the behavior of living organisms under ap- 
propriate circumstances. It therefore takes for granted the scien- 
tific account of the world and is an inquiry into matters of fact on 
par with any other scientific discipline. 

The second type of inquiry does not take science for granted 
and is said to be philosophically more important than the first. 

We all start from “naive realism,” i.e., the doctrine that things are what 
they seem. We think that grass is green, that stones are hard, and that 
snow is cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hard- 
ness of stones, and the coldness of now, are not the greenness, hardness, 
and coldness that we know in our own experience, but something very 
different. The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, 
is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone 
upon himself. Thus science seems to be at war with itself: when it most 
means to be objective, it finds itself plunged into subjectivity against its 
will. Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naive 
realism is false. Therefore naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is 
false. (P. 14.) 

It is therefore necessary to re-examine what passes for knowledge 
and -discover the ultimate premises on which claims to knowledge 
must be based. These ^‘epistemological premises’’ must possess the 
following three characteristics: they must be logically prior to 
other propositions, and thus serve as starting points for deduction; 
they must be psychologically prior ^ and so be beliefs which are 
not caused by other beliefs; and they must be true as far as we can 
ascertain, Mr, Russell believes that there are epistemological premises:, 
and his inquiry is directed toward discovering their distinctive 
nature. In fact, he holds that if we are to escape from complete 
scepticism, we must assume “perceptive premises” as basic— beliefs 
which are “caused, as immediately as possible, by a percept” (p. 
168), and whose truth is wholly dependent on the one occurrence 
we “notice” at the time (p. 172). What we notice, however, are 
percepts, and percepts are inside our heads (p. 428). 

Mr. Russell is so convinced that the “common-sense” view of 
the world is false, that he nowhere argues the point. The basis for 
Mr. Russell’s rejection of “naive realism” is presumably the fact 
that a complicated causal chain mediates between the occurrence 
of physical events and our perceptions of them, and that without 



[ 192 ] Sovereign Reason 

the existence of an appropriate physical and physiological mech- 
anism there would be no perception of qualities. But it is by no 
means evident how it follows from this that the grass is not green 
in the familiar sense of the term, and that greenness is a quality 
located in a “perceptual space” distinct from the “physical space” 
occupied by the grass. Indeed, it is not physics which requires 
us to assume this, for physics is concerned with determining the 
conditions under which such qualities as greenness occur, and it 
identifies and locates such sensory quahties in much the same way 
as it identifies and locates electro-magnetic disturbances. It is 
Mr. Russell’s interpretation of physics in terms of an epistemo- 
logical duahsm, rather than any special findings of the sciences, 
which require the exclusion of qualities from “physical space.” The 
question is too involved to be settled in a review. But it is worth 
noting that Mr. Russell’s interpretation of science is not the exclu- 
sive one, and that not all the alternatives lead to the radical 
bifurcation into “physical” and “perceptual spaces” which accom- 
pany his view. Considering the importance of the issue, it is there- 
fore somewhat surprising that he does not even mention the views 
of objective-relativists like Professor McGilvary, which avoid such 
a bifurcation, or the view, advanced in 1936 by Mr. G. A. Paul 
and more recently by Mr. A. Ayer, that the “location” of per- 
ceived qualities in a distinctive “perceptual space” does not involve 
questions of fact but only of linguistic convention. 

However that may be, there are a number of difficulties mtemal 
to Mr. Russell’s fundamental distinction between the physical and 
the perceptual, and it will be instructive to consider a few of them. 
In discussing the relation between perception and knowledge he 
presently asks “What we want to know is the resemblance^ if any, 
between the sun and ‘seeing the sun’; for it is only in so far as 
there is a resemblance that the latter can be a source of knowledge 
concerning the former” (p. 146). This is a curious problem in- 
deed; for if the sun is in physical space while the percept of the 
sun is in visual space, and since on Mr. Russell’s view the organs 
of vision can yield only the percept of the sun, it would not seem 
rash to conclude that to compare them is a priori impossible. And 
yet Mr. Russell assures us that the sun looks round and also is 
round (p. 147), and entertains the possibility that the coordinates 
of physical stars in physical space are the same as the coordinates 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ ^93 ] 

of visual stars m visual space (p. 300). If the shapes or mag- 
nitudes seen by eyes occur in the same space in which eyes occur, 
the question whether two shapes are alike has a definite sense, even 
if technical difficulties may prevent a ready answer. But in what 
sense can we compare a sensory quality with something which, by 
hypothesis and not simply because of practical or technical dif- 
ficulties, IS inaccessible to the organs of sensed 

Mr. Russell proceeds on the tacit assumption that physics and 
ordinary vision offer two competing conceptions of the world, with 
physics giving the true account. He maintains, however, that the 
world which physics is supposed to explore is simply a hypothesis 
which simplifies the statement of causal laws, but against which 
there can be no argument, “since experience will be the same 
whether it exists or not” (p. 294). How on this vie-sv of the 
“physical world” physics can refute “common-sense” is not ap- 
parent. On the other hand, Mr. Russell also says that while the 
space of physics is not directly sensible, it is nevertheless “defin- 
able by relation to sensible spaces” (p. 356), and this suggests that 
physical space is something that might be perceived if our “percep- 
tive faculties were sufficiently extensive” (p 282). But in that 
case how can the world of physics be a hypothesis for which no 
critical evidence can be obtained? It would be easy to follow Mr. 
Russell if he maintained that physical space is not capable of being 
perceived, because “physical space” is simply the name for the 
order or structure of events and bodies— and is therefore not sub- 
ject-matter for perception for exactly the same reason that the pnn- 
ciples of statics are not subject-matter for perception. But he quite 
clearly does not mean this, for he declares that 

Unsophisticated common sense supposes that the book, just as it ap- 
pears when seen, is there all the time. This we know to be false. The book 
which can exist unseen must, if it exists, be the sort of thing that physics 
says it is, which is quite unlike what we see. (P 293.) 

It is difficult to see what sense it makes to say that while physical 
space is inaccessible to perception it is nevertheless definable in 
perceptual terms. 

Again, Mr. Russell * declares that such an experience as seeing 
a cat is veridical if there is an antecedent causal chain which, at a 
certain point in its backward course, reaches a cat (p. 150). But 
it is not clear to what question this is alleged to be an answer. Is 



[ 194 ] Sovereign Reason 

it an account of the physical conditions necessary for the occur- 
rence of certain organic responses, or is it a criterion for the valid- 
ity of perceptual propositions^ It does not seem likely that it is the 
former, for the problem is not one for the theory of knowledge, 
and in any case Mr. Russell has too much respect for the require- 
ments of natural science to regard his answer as solving it. But if 
it is the latter, how can Mr. Russell escape from a vicious infinite 
regress^ For suppose I wish to determine whether my experience 
is verdical. I must then, on Mr. Russell’s criterion, investigate the 
causal chain w^hich leads backward from my percept in order to 
determine whether it contains a cat. But for this purpose I must 
use my sense-organs which, by hypothesis, yield only further per- 
cepts. I must therefore examine the causal chains leading back 
from these new percepts to see whether the appropriate causes 
occur in them, and so on ad injinitmn, Mr. Russell’s difficulties 
are somewhat reminiscent of the mathematician’s well-known pre- 
scription for catching a lion* you must first carefully construct a 
circular corral with yourself inside and the lion outside; then per- 
form a transformation by inversion, which brings the lion into the 
enclosure and takes you outside. Mr. Russell’s problem is how to 
catch a cat: your percept is safely within the circle of visual space 
and the real cat is in physical space; but unlike the mathematician, 
Mr, Russell does not state what transformation will permit the two 
to move from one space to the other. 


2 , 

In order to discuss his main problem Mr. Russell finds it neces- 
sary to construct first a “primary” or “object” language, whose 
initial vocabulary is to consist of names, predicates, and relation- 
words, all of which are to be ostensively defined. Sentences in this 
language are obtained by combining these words according to syn- 
tactical rules. But a sentence has both a subjective and an objec- 
tive aspect: subjectively, it expresses a state of the user of the 
sentence, and its significance is what it expresses; objectively, if it 
is true it indicates a fact. Propositions are defined in terms of 
sentences: a proposition is the class of all sentences which have the 
same significance as a given sentence, although they are also defined 
as “psychological and physiological occurrences of certain sorts— 
complex images, expectations, etc.” (p. 237). 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 195 1 

A number of special assumptions control the construction of this 
primary language, and these must now be examined. The first is 
connected with Tarski’s proof that if we are to avoid antinomies 
from the use of the words “true” and “false,” we must admit a 
hierarchy of languages* a sentence m a given language can be 
characterized as true or false only by sentences belonging to a 
higher level of the hierarchy. Mr. Russell concludes from this re- 
sult that there must be a language of the lowest level in which the 
terms “true” and “false” do not occur; “The hierarchy must 
extend upwards indefinitely, but not downwards, since, if it did, 
language could never get started. There must, therefore, be a 
language of lowest type” (p. 76). 

It is not evident, however, that there must indeed be a language 
of the lowest type. Tarski’s results do not preclude the possibility 
of a hierarchy of languages which is “open” at both ends; and 
they do not, it seems to me, even exclude the view that for histoncal 
languages the “hierarchy” simply requires that a distinction be 
made beween statements according as they do or do not predicate 
truth of one another— a distinction which is relative to the context 
in which the terms “true” and “false” occur. Moreover, when 
Mr. Russell argues for the existence of a lowest-level language on 
the ground that otherwise language could not get started, does he 
mean “get started” in the historical development of languages or 
in the logical reconstruction of a language^ If he means the former, 
is there any evidence that the histoncal languages have begun their 
development with an initial lowest-level language, or that at any 
time they consistently distinguish between statements of differ- 
ent levels.^ And if he means the latter, is it not perfectly evident 
that a logical reconstruction can be given for a language w'hich 
contains the words “true” and “false,” since a formalization of 
a semantic meta-language is possible without requinng the prior 
formalization of a language free from semantic terms? Mr. Rus- 
sell’s appeal to recent work in semantics to support his assumption 
of a lowest-level language seems to me entirely gratuitous. 

A second principle controlhng the construction of Mr. Russell’s 
object language is his distinction betv^een words which have a 
meaning only in suitable contexts (such as the word “than”): and 
words (such as proper names) which have a “meaning in isola- 
tion” and “which have been learnt without its being necessary to 



[ 196 ] Sovereign Reason 

have previously learnt any other words” (p. 80). Only the latter 
type of word is to occur in the primary language Since this dis- 
tinction plays a fundamental role in Mr. Russell’s book, it is re- 
grettable that he does not discuss it more fully. How strictly is the 
phrase “in isolation” to be taken^ Do any words have meaning in 
isolation from the various rules and linguistic habits which govern 
their combination with other words or their use in various con- 
texts.^ On the other hand, Mr. Russell’s view that there are words 
whose meanings may be learned solely by a “confrontation” with 
the objects they mean (p. 28) without depending upon their 
occurrences in sentences (p. 32), is dubious as a factual claim and 
question-begging when used to construct a theory of knowledge. 
Indeed, Mr. Russell himself admits that “the use of an object-word 
as a complete exclamatory sentence is its primary use, from which 
its use as part of a larger sentence is derivative” (p. 337, my italics). 
It is not easy to determine whether Mr. Russell is stating alleged 
matters of fact relevant to the psydhology of learning, or whether 
he is arguing matters of logic. Taken as the former, he offers no 
respectable evidence on the matter; taken as the latter, he is mis- 
leading and unclear, if not definitely wrong, in assuming the ex- 
istence of words having meanings “in isolation.” 

In any event, however, the sentences of the primary language 
are to be atomic in form and they are to express “judgments of 
perception”: they will consist of a finite number of proper names 
and one word which is not a proper name but a predicate or a rela- 
tion-word; and they will be the basic statements “credible inde- 
pendently of any argument in their favor” (p. 17). The reason 
(Tetre for the primary language is now evident; for “if due care 
is taken, all the sentences which embody empirical physical data 
will assert or deny propositions of atomic form” which will be 
“justified by observation without inference” (p. 53). Mr. Russell 
even suggests an explicit criterion for determining whether a word 
belongs to the primary language: 

Whenever you doubt or reject what you are told, your hearing does 
not belong to the object-language; for in such a case you are lingering 
on the words, whereas in the object-language the words are transparent, 
i.e., their effects upon your behavior depend only upon what they mean, 
and are, up to a point, identical with the effects that would result from 
the sensible presence of what they designate. (P. 84.) 



Mr, Russell on Meanmg and Truth [ J97 ] 

A word is thus an object-word if you react “causally” to it. At 
the same time Mr. Russell recognizes the role which motor habits 
play in the use of words; 

... a black object may cause you to say “this is black” as a result of a 
mere mechamsm, without any realization of the meanmg of your words 
Indeed what is said in this thoughtless way is perhaps more likely to be 
true than w^hat is said deliberately; for if you know Enghsh there is a 
causal connection between a black object and the word “black ”... 
This IS what gives such a high probability of truth to sentences stimu- 
lated by the presence of the objects to which they refer. (P. 72.) 

It is, however, not altogether clear just what Mr. Russell thinks 
he can achieve through constructing his object-language, I shall 
waive discussing the factual claim that the occurrence of a black 
object can cause the utterance of certain words, since this is a mat- 
ter for some branch of natural science to settle and it is a claim for 
which Mr. Russell produces no evidence whatsoever. I am frankly 
puzzled, however, by his appeal to habits for deciding whether an 
utterance is true. For the evaluation of habitual behavior re- 
quires just that sort of knowledge Mr. Russell is presumably put- 
ting to scrutiny, since habits are connected with familiar common- 
sense objects rather than with those brief, atomized events which 
are to be recorded in the primary language. Is there any reason 
why linguistic habits should be regarded as less reliable in connec- 
tion with words applied to common-sense objects than when words 
are applied to atomic qualities— especially since the very appre- 
hension of qualities as atomic is perhaps debatable? But I am no 
less puzzled by the relevance for Mr. Russell’s problem of his claim 
that certain utterances are caused by certain occurrences; for if 
this claim is taken as a criterion for determining whether the utter- 
ances are true, an infinite regress seems unavoidable. Thus;, to 
determine whether “this is black” is true, we should have to ask 
whether a black object causes it, and subsequently, in order to 
answer this question, whether other utterances made in the course 
of this process are true, and therefore whether certain objects cause 
these utterances, and so on indefinitely. In any case, we could not 
decide what words do belong to the object-language without first 
developing an adequate science which would discriminate and 
identify the causes of words, and we could not therefore construct 
a primary language without using those very assumptions which 



[ 198 ] Sovereign Reason 

the construction of the primary language is supposed to justify. 

However that may be, there is one important corollary which 
must be noted concerning the character of Mr. Russell’s object- 
language. He excludes from it all the familiar logical words such 
as “not,” “or,” “some,” “all,” etc., since these words according 
to him “presuppose the existence of language” and are needed only 
to express psychological attitudes and are not needed to indicate 
facts. Thus, “or” is taken to express experiences of hesitation and 
choice (p. 102), while “not” is related only to the act of judging 
(p. 89). This view requires some comments. 

I can not help suspecting that Mr. Russell is badly confused in 
maintaining that logical words like “or” presuppose the existence 
of a language in the sense he intends. For it is surely not the case 
that these words are meta-linguistic ones, like “true” and “false,” 
which presuppose a language in any other sense than the sense in 
which any word presupposes a language. For example, in the 
sentence “If I am hot then I perspire,” the logical connective “if- 
then” does not stand between the names of two sentences, but is 
used to connect the two “facts” denoted by the two sentences “I 
am hot” and “I perspire”; and in this respect it functions like the 
two words “I” and “perspire” to convey information about mat- 
ters of fact which are not linguistic or psychological. In tins con- 
text, at any rate, the logical connective is used to indicate. 

If logical words simply express psychological attitudes, how can 
Mr. Russell avoid psychologizing all of logic^ Is the proposition 
“This is black or this is not black” a contingent truth, referring to 
facts of psychology The triumph of Prmcipta Mathematica over 
psychologizing logics would then have been a Pyrrhic victory in- 
deed. On this question, however, Mr. Russell is regrettably silent. 
But is it the case that disjunctions airways express simply psycho- 
logical attitudes.^ Mr. Russell himself calls attention to such a 
term as “child” which is equivalent to “boy or girl,” and which 
when used in sentences is normally employed to indicate and not 
merely to express; and other expressions in English, even color- 
names like “yellow,” may be used in some contexts as abbrevia- 
tions for disjunctions understood as logical sums rather than as 
expressions of hesitation. Smce Mr. Russell insists that questions 
of psychology must be kept clear from questions of logic, it is not 



Mr, Russell on Meaning aiid Truth [ 199 1 

clear why every usage of logical words must be excluded from the 
primary language. 

Moreover, since a material conditional of the form “If A then 
B” is logically equivalent to a disjunction, Mr. Russell’s primary 
language can contain no conditional statements either. He does 
maintain, however, that “the non-mental world can be completely 
described without the use of any logical words’ (p. 114). Con- 
sequently, since words like “malleable,” “mass,” and other terms 
employed in the various sciences require to be defined with the 
help of conditionals—as independent evidence seems to show— the 
non-mental world can not, on Mr. Russell’s view, contain the prop- 
erties designated by such words, so that they must therefore be 
interpreted as expressing psychological facts. Is it not surpnsing 
how much Mr. Russell is able to know about the constitution of the 
physical world? The reader must, however, decide for himself 
whether he will place greater greater credence in the conclusions 
of Mr. Russell’s epistemology, or in the conclusions of various sci- 
ences, resting on public evidence, that such properties do occur 
in the non-mental world. 

It appears, therefore, that the price at which Mr. Russell’s 
theory of knowledge must be bought is not only a psychologized 
logic but a psychologized physics as well. On his view propositions 
embodying the most certain and adequate knowledge must refer to 
absolutely determinate, absolutely specific atomic events; and the 
specificity of the evidence is for him not a function of the context 
in which evidence is required but is fixed antecedently for all con- 
texts. It IS perhaps not surprising that the only subject-matter he 
can find to which his evidential statements will refer is the subject- 
matter of individual psychology. And yet on one occasion Mr. 
Russell admits that “the difference between a statement which is 
disjunctive and one which is not does not consist in any difference 
in the state of affairs which would make it true, but solely .in the 
question whether the difference between the possibilities which 
our statement leaves open is interesting to us or not” (p. 107). If 
this admission is taken seriously does it not suggest a clear alterna- 
tive to his oflficial view> Does it not raise the question whether the 
atomic character of statements is not, after ail, relative to the type 
of problem requiring solution, that the degree of specificity which 



[ 200 ] Sovereign Reason 

the relevant evidence must satisfy is a function of the particular 
task at hand, and that the assumption of propositions which are 
atomic intrinsically is a gratuitous requirement of any actual in- 
quiry? 


3 - 

Mr. Russell’s conception of perceptual Judgments as caused by 
experiences requires him to assume that there exists immediate 
knowledge through the senses. This view is formulated by him 
repeatedly in many ways. Thus he declares that basic propositions 
must be known independently of inference and must be such that 
'‘the perceptive occurrence which gives the cause is considered to 
give the reason for believing the basic proposition” (p. 172). 
Again, if basic propositions are examined from ‘‘within” and not 
in terms of their causes, he maintains that 

every empirical proposition is based upon one or more sensible occur- 
rences that were noticed when they occurred, or immediately after, while 
they still formed part of the speci'ous present. Such occurrences, we shall 
say, are “known” when they are noticed. The word “know” has many 
meanings, and this is only one of them; but for the purpose of our in- 
quiry it is fundamental. (P. 61.) 

In this sense of “know,” however, words are not involved, and 
Mr. Russell therefore asks how we can “formulate a sentence which 
(in a different sense) we ‘know’ to be true in virtue of the occur- 
rence” (p. 61). Mr. Russell examines the question whether in 
using a language we do not, after all, rely on the effects of repe- 
tition and assume a certain universality: 

Repetition and universality, in fact^ are of the essence of the matter, for 
language consists of habits, habit involves repetition, and repetition can 
only be of universals. But in knowledge none of this is necessary, since 
we use language, and can use it correcdy, without being aware of the 
process by which we acquired it. (P. 393.) 

The fundamental issue and its resolution therefore is: 

Can anything be learnt, and if so what, from a single experience? . . . 
Unless each single observation yields some knowledge, how can a suc- 
cession of observations yield knowledge? (P. 395.) 

The question as to whether there is “immediate knowledge” is 
always in danger of becoming a terminological one, and I do not 
wish to discuss it in this form. I shall ask instead whether the 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 201 ] 

problems raised by Mr. Russell in this context are resolved by him, 
and whether he has adequately established the existence of imme- 
diate knowledge in his sense of the term. 

Mr. Russell’s discussion of the question how we can formulate 
a sentence vyhich we “know” to be true in virtue of the occurrence 
which we notice (p. 61 ff), seems to me to yield only a truistic 
answer. For in the end Mr. Russell tells us nothing more than that 
the sentence “I am hot,” for example, expresses what I notice— 
namely, that I am hot. On the other hand, his view that the per- 
ceptive occurrence which is the cause of a basic proposition also 
gives the reason for believing it to be true, is a perfectly futile 
criterion for determining w^hether a proposition is true. Does Mr. 
Russell believe that we can ascertain by immediate inspection what 
the causes of our utterances are? This seems to be a large factual 
claim indeed, and it would be interesting to know what the con- 
trolled experiments are which establish it. But if he does not 
believe this, must we first determine by independent means what 
the causes of our beliefs are before we can say whether they are 
true^ In that case, however, I do not see how we can avoid an 
obvious infinite regress. The tacit assumption underlying Mr. 
Russell’s discussion is that we can be more certain of a proposition 
the more directly it is connected by causal relations with what we 
claim to know; but I do not know any good reason why this should 
be so. 

Mr. Russell declares that only such propositions ought to be 
regarded as basic which are “about particular occurrences which, 
after a critical scrutiny, we still believe independently of any ex- 
traneous evidence in their favor” (p. 187). Such a scrutiny in- 
volves restriction of attention to the “momentary perception as the 
least questionable thing in our experience” (p. 189); nevertheless, 
“in order to study momentary visual space, it is necessary to keep 
the eyes motionless and attend to things near the periphery as well 
as the center of the field of vision” (p. 433, my italics). I fail to 
see, however, that if such operations must be performed in order to 
obtain basic propositions, how Mr. Russell can avoid using assump- 
tions and cognitive commitments which are not directly presented 
as true in a momentary perception, assumptions in terms of which 
his scrutiny is made. Surely we can not control our eyes without 
taking for granted common-sense objects and thus assuming die 



[ 202 ] Sovereign Reason 

validity of inductive generalizations and inferences. Surely we 
can not scrutinize without analyzing, as Mr. Russell himself admits 
(p. 422), and we can not analyze without regarding some things 
as relevant and others as not, and thereby falling back upon gen- 
eral principles which are not established in a single momentary 
experience. 

The type of argument Mr. Russell offers, to show that a single 
observation must yield some knowledge, could equally well estab- 
lish the conclusion that every constituent note in a melody must 
itself be a melody if there is to be any melody at all; and if Mr. 
Russell were not writing epistemology, he would dismiss it as an 
instance of the fallacy of division. But a more serious diflSculty is 
that on Mr. Russell’s view there is no room whatsoever for the 
criticism of truth-claims in the case of perceptual judgments, since 
the distinction between truth and falsity in this case is “to be 
defined by their causes'*'^ rather than by their effects (p. 410). The 
ultimate factual premises are therefore such that no one of them 
can be rendered in any degree probable or improbable by any 
number of others, the sole reason for believing them being always 
the events which cause them. It is therefore not altogether surpris- 
ing to find Mr. Russell abandoning “empiricism,” as he conceives it, 
as an untenable standpoint, and being driven to accept a number of 
non-demonstrative principles of inference which experience can 
neither confirm nor refute, but which are nevertheless in some cases 
to be regarded as more certain than the evidence of the senses 
(p. 398). I believe, however, that the source of Mr. Russell’s diffi- 
culties is his taking the distinction between what is prior and what 
posterior in knowledge as fixed once for all. He does not entertain 
the possibility that what is prior in one inquiry may be posterior 
in another context, and that the self-corrective procedure of in- 
quiry shuttles systematically between general principles and ob- 
servations, correcting each in the light of the other. On the contrary, 
as he himself explains, his analysis is controlled by the method of 
Cartesian doubt and by the desire to find a fixed set of propositions 
which would constitute the ultimate foundation for all other beliefs. 
This is indeed the conception of “linear Justification” e indent in 
the Aristotelian theory of science, in w^hich all propositions hang 
like links in a chain from an unshakable first link. Since Mr. Russell 
regards Aristotle as one of the four great calamities in the history 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 203 ] 

of philosophy, he seems to be in very bad company indeed. This 
is not the place to develop or even to state adequately an alterna- 
tive conception of “justification” for beliefs; but I submit that the 
beliefs held on the basis of modem scientific inquiry are neither 
acquired nor organized nor justified in the manner Mr. Russell 
thinks It is essential for accredited knowledge to be. 

There is one final difficulty in Mr. Russell’s reconstraction of 
knowledge. He explicitly declares that perhaps no actual proposi- 
tions quite fulfill the conditions required for basic propositions, 
although he maintains that “pure perceptive propositions remain 
a limit to which we can approach indefinitely, and the nearer we 
approach them the smaller the risk of error” (p. 190). But this 
admission seems to me to jeopardize seriously his entire undertak- 
ing. For Mr. Russell constructed his primary language and pos- 
tulated basic propositions in order to establish with their help the 
linkage between the facts of the non-verbal, non-mental world and 
the propositions accepted on the basis of cmde experience or scien- 
tific inquiry. To the extent, however, that the existence of such 
basic propositions is not established, and if, moreover, the evidence 
available from independent sources is accepted as showing that no 
such propositions exist, Mr. Russell has failed in the task he had set 
for himself. For in that case he has simply constructed an abstract 
linguistic system the application of which to matters of fact raises 
precisely the same sort of logical issues as are germane to the use 
of the language of every-day discourse and science. This point, 
which I regard as quite central in this matter, may be made plainer 
by another illustration. Let us suppose it is a problem to show 
how a system of mathematics, developed on the assumption of a 
continuous field of variation, can be used to formulate the facts 
in a world of discrete objects; then the problem is clearly not 
solved if we constnict another system of mathematics, also depend- 
ing on assumptions of continuity, which is to mediate between the 
first system and the specified subject-matter. As I see it, Mr. Rus- 
sell’s epistemological construction likewise aims to mediate between 
the facts of the world and scientific propositions; but the assump- 
tions he finds it necessary to make raise the very questions which 
that construction was intended to solve. 



[ 204] 


Sovereign Reason 


4 - 

With the help of his specially constructed object-language Mr. 
Russell believes he can resolve a number of issues which have 
plagued the traditional theory of knowledge and metaphysics. 
There is space to consider only some of his findings. 

I. He insists that statements like “this is red” must not be con- 
strued as subject-predicate propositions; for if they are so under- 
stood “this” would be a name for an unknowable substance. Since 
he holds that “what would commonly be called a 'thing’ is nothing 
but a bundle of co-existing quahties such as redness, hardness, 
etc.,” he construes the above statement as being of the form “red- 
ness is here” (p. 120). Nevertheless, nowhere in the present book 
does Mr. Russell show in a general way how things are to be 
analyzed in the indicated manner— unless one regards the use of 
the metaphor “bundle” as performing this task. The difficulties in 
the way of giving such an analysis on a phenomenalistic basis are 
well known, and I believe it is correct to say that no satisfactory 
analysis is known which makes possible the elimination of thing- 
names from every context. The difficulties are certainly not di- 
minished if with Mr. Russell we exclude logical words from the 
primary language. How can sentences containing thing-names be 
replaced by equivalent sentences containing only object- words, if 
the relations between qualities (such as are usually formulated by 
conditional sentences) in terms of which “things” may conceivably 
be defined are after all not relations between those qualities^ 

The analysis of things as bundles of qualities requires Mr. Russell 
to give a definition of “place.” This he does by associating a pair 
of angular coordinates with each specific quality as it occurs in 
perceptual space, where the angular coordinates are themselves to 
be regarded as qualities (p. 122). It is not clear, however, in what 
sense angular coordinates are directly apprehended qualities; for 
the coordinates are presumably some type of number (if not, in 
what sense are they coordinates.^), and at the very minimum they 
will have to be introduced by stipulating some order among quali- 
ties. Can such an ordering be performed in the momentary specious 
present.^ And if not, can angular coordinates be specified without 
using those very “common-sense” objects which it is the task of 
Mr. Russell to analyze into bundles of qualities? He admits that 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 205 ] 

the angular coordinates of latitude and longitude in “physical 
space” are not directly observed qualities, but insists nevertheless 
that “they are definable m terms of qualities” so that it is “a harm- 
less avoidance of circumlocution to call them qualities” (p. 124). 
It is not clear what Mr. Russell means by “define”; but if he means 
that “latitude” and “longitude” can be replaced in every context 
by names of directly experienced qualities, his statement can be 
accepted only on faith, since he gives no clue as to how this is to 
be done. 

2. Mr. Russell has much to say on how sentences indicate, and 
is particularly concerned with the question “How can I think of 
things that I do not experience?” (p. 274). His views briefly stated 
are somewhat as follows: When the verbal expression of a belief 
involves no apparent variables, what is expressed and what is 
indicated are identical. But when a sentence “involves” a variable, 
its relation to what it indicates is remote and indirect, and it refers 
to something beyond what is directly experienced. What is indi- 
cated by such a sentence, however, can not be stated in the primary 
language, since we do not have a proper name for something out- 
side experience (p. 278). Thus, when I say “this dog is ten years 
old,” what I experience is a canoid patch of color, and I am 
making a statement about an unexperienced something (the phys- 
ical dog) which stands in a certain relation to the canoid patch 
of color and is also ten years old. Hence the sentence “this dog is 
ten years old” turns out to “involve” an apparent variable, since 
it must be rendered as “there is 2 l c such that it is identical with the 
cause of the canoid patch of color and is ten years old.” If we had 
a proper name, say for the unexperienced something— which 
of course is impossible— this existential sentence would indicate 
that which makes ''A is ten years old” true (p. 279). Mr. Russell 
also seems to think that this analysis shows how we can think of 
things we do not experience (p. 282). 

Mr. Russell’s argument is difficult to follow, and I am not clear 
as to w^hat he thinks he has established. Taken quite strictly, the 
sentence “this dog is ten years old” surely does not contain an 
apparent variable, and the issue then is just what Mr. Russell 
means when he says that it nevertheless “involves” one. He may 
simply mean that a sentence of the form “There is an x such that x 
is ten years old” follows from the sentence “This dog is ten years 



[ 2o6 ] Sovereign Reason 

old,” which surely is the case for many languages though not neces- 
sarily for all; but this fact can not be used to prove that the thing 
said to exist does not inhabit the same realm as the canoid patch of 
color. Such a consequence would be vahd only if we antecedently 
accept Mr. Russell’s theory of perceptual and physical spaces. 
Moreover, the above two sentences are not logically equivalent, for 
the second does not follow from the first; and yet Mr. Russell gives 
the impression that the first sentence formulates an analysis of 
what is said by the second. Nor do I see how Mr. Russell has an- 
swered ‘his question about how we can think of things we do not 
experience in any way other than trivially: for all I find him saying 
is that we simply can think of things that are not being experienced. 
By transforming a sentence without variables into a sentence with 
variables, the relation of the latter to what it indicates is no less 
a problem (if it is a problem) than the relation of the former to 
what it formulates. 

3. Mr. Russell discusses the nature of truth and its relation to 
knowledge, and after disposing of alternatives accepts a cor- 
respondence theory of truth. He distinguishes between an epis- 
temological and a logical version of the correspondence theory. 
According to the former, the correspondence is between a propo- 
sition and an experience; according to the latter it is between a 
proposition and a fact. The important difference between these 
two versions is that while on the former a proposition is neither 
true nor false if there is no evidence for it, on the latter every 
proposition is either true or false, so that there must be a fact, 
whether it is observed or not, corresponding to one member of 
every pair of contradictory propositions (p. 364). More specifi- 
cally, on the epistemological theory a true basic sentence cor- 
responds to an experience or expresses an experience, where 
'‘corresponds” and “expresses” are to be defined behavioristically. 
Sentences which are not basic are “probable” if they stand in 
certain (unspecified) syntactical relations to basic sentences (p. 
3<S6). On the logical theory, a sentence is verifiable (and thus 
presumably corresponds to a fact) if it is either epistemologically 
basic or stands in certain (unspecified) syntactical relations to 
such basic sentences. However, on this theory unverifiable sen- 
tences will be true if they correspond (in some unspecified way) 
with facts, where “fact” is taken as an undefined term. Thus, if 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 207 ] 

we call those sentences “data” which express and indicate experi- 
enced facts, verifiable sentences will be those which are so related 
syntactically to data as to make them deducible from data. Hence 
true sentences are those which either indicate facts or have the 
same syntactical relations to sentences indicating facts which veri- 
fiable sentences have to data (p. 367). Since Mr. Russell finally 
accepts the logical version of the correspondence theory, he must 
maintain that verifiable sentences are a proper sub-class of true 
sentences and that a “proposition may be true although no method 
exists for discovering that it is so” (p. 361). 

However, in spite of his long discussion of the correspondence 
theory, no clear view emerges as to what this correspondence 
is. Mr. Russell assures us that the correspondence between basic 
propositions and facts must be specified causally; but we are left 
in essential obscurity as to the nature of the correspondence in the 
case of propositions involving variables. He has nothing to say 
concerning the syntactical relations in virtue of which a proposi- 
tion is said to be “probable” relative to basic propositions; and 
he does not even suggest what bearing “probability” would have 
upon the problems of inductive procedures if the term were 
defined on the basis of syntax alone. He maintains that by re- 
taining the principle of excluded middle he requires the “meta- 
physical assumption” that there are “facts” corresponding either 
to a sentence or to its negative; but since “facts” are introduced 
to save a principle and are not otherwise identified, and since on 
his own analysis this principle does not describe anything in the 
non-verbal and non-mental world (for it contains logical words), 
it is something of a mystery how such a procedure can yield 
metaphysical conclusions. It is possible, and I think for many 
purposes highly desirable, to stipulate such conventions for the 
use of the term “truth” that as a consequence a proposition may 
be true even if “no method exists of discovering that it is so.” On 
the other hand, many empiricists who take their point of de- 
parture from the procedures of science are ready to admit that 
for such a sense of “truth” there is no general method for discov- 
ering whether a proposition is true. But they would insist, and to 
my mind rightly so, that while this sense of truth may specify the 
ideal goal of inquiry and thus serve as a norm to it, it is not 
directly relevant for the admittedly different issue as to how 



[ 2o8 ] Sovereign Reason 

reliable beliefs are to be obtained or as to whether the methods 
of bringing evidence to bear upon a proposition are integral to 
an understanding of what the proposition asserts. 

4. Mr. Russell’s final problem is whether anything, and if so 
what, can be inferred from the structure of language as to the 
structure of the world. But I think he compromises his problem 
from the very start by insisting that smce common-day language 
is not sufficiently precise the question can be raised only for an 
‘"artificial logical language” (p. 415). For how is this logical 
language to be constructed^ Does it have to be constructed on the 
basis of a prior study of what does exist in the non-verbal worlds 
If it does, what is the point of constructing such a language, since 
this prior study will then determine just what the structure of the 
language must be^ In this case we would hardly regard as valu- 
able any “inference” we might make about the structure of the 
world from the structure of the language. But if such a prior study 
does not have to be undertaken, how can the question be decided 
except on the basis of an antecedent— and therefore arbitrary- 
theory as to what exists^ 

However that may be, Mr. Russell maintains that there is a 
“discoverable relation between the structure of sentences and the 
structures of the occurrences to which the sentences refer” (p. 
429), Here are some of his findings: If a proposition contains no 
variables, it can not have more than one verifier; if a number of 
subject-predicate statements expressing judgments of perception 
have the same subject, they will have the same verifier, namely, 
what is designated by the subject; if a number of such propositions 
have the same predicate, the verifiers all have a “common part,” 
namely, what the predicate designates (p. 431). These results are 
disappointing, to say the least. They appear to be simply the 
analytical consequences of the semantical rules governing the con- 
struction of the sentences in question: that a sentence without 
variables, for example, has only one verifier, is just what was 
stipulated as to the circumstances under which a sentence is to 
be viewed as involving a variable. And on the crucial question 
whether from the structure of one sentence (however “structure” 
may be defined) we can infer anything about the structure of its 
verifier, Mr. Russell is disappointingly silent. 



Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth [ 209 ] 

However, Mr. Russell does maintain that there seems to be no 
escape from admitting relations as parts of the non-linguistic con- 
stitution of the world, since, for example, similarity can not be 
explained away as belonging only to speech (p. 434). I fail to 
see, however, how the study of language alone (and in Mr. Rus- 
sell’s case It IS the study of just one artificial language) can >ield 
this conclusion. Have we proved that a certain relation occurs in 
the world because we are unable to eliminate a certain relation- 
word from a given language^ Does not such a proof require the 
submission of relevant empirical or factual evidence^ I strongly 
suspect that Mr. Russell can produce a non-verbal rabbit from his 
verbal hat only because he has taken care to bring the animal into 
the room. 

In any event, Mr. Russell rejects a complete metaphysical scep- 
ticism, and maintains that “partly by means of the study of syntax, 
we can arrive at considerable knowledge concerning the structure 
of the world” (p. 438). In one very obvious sense this is surely 
the case: few will disagree with him if his thesis is that “by means 
of syntax” we can establish relations of deducibility betv^een state- 
ments and thus make it possible to learn something about the 
structure of the world by examimng the derived conclusions in 
the light of empirical evidence. But so interpreted Mr. Russell’s 
claim can hardly be “the goal” of his long book. On the other 
hand, whether his claim is valid in any other sense than this one is 
difficult to say; for he has not formulated a single proposition about 
the structure of the world which he has unmistakably obtained 
from the study of the structure of language alone. 

Mr. Russell’s book suggests to me that the phoenix is perhaps 
not a mythological bird after all, and that its secret name is 
“epistemology.” For although the type of inquiry Mr. Russell 
pursues has often been pronounced dead by eminent authorities, 
it manages to get itself bom anew with unfailing regularity. It is 
true that in Mr. Russell’s book it comes to life again adorned with 
strange plumage borrowed from current logical terminology; but 
it is unmistakably the same old bird and carries on in familiar 
ways. When so many excellent hands have failed in curtailing the 
charmed life of the creature, it is reasonable to resign oneself to its 
continued existence. In this review, however, I have tried to riiow 



[ 210 ] Sovereign Reason 

that Mr. Russell’s book contributes little if anything to our under- 
standing of the operations of language, of the conditions of mean- 
ingful discourse, or of the actual procedures involved in validating 
claims to knowledge. And if I have understood his book aright, 
it seems highly probable to me that the phoenix is not the bird of 
Minerva, 



i2 

The Basis 

of Human Knowledge 


Shortly before his departure from this country in 1944, Ber- 
txand Russell expressed his intention to round out his career in 
philosophy with what he hoped would be his most important 
book. He declared that while most of his life had been devoted to 
the foundations of mathematics and the analysis of deductive in- 
ference, these subjects were in his opimon only of secondary 
significance. The paramount problems of philosophy, he believed, 
are concerned with the clarification of “non-demonstrative” argu- 
ments, whose premises imply their conclusions only with some 
degree of probability rather than with rigorous necessity. It is 
arguments of this type that play commanding roles in the aiffairs 
of life as well as in controlled scientific inquiry; and the great 
“scandal of philosophy” is often said to consist in the fact that 
the principles underlying them are still obscure and debatable. 
To make explicit these principles, and to exhibit the assumptions 
required to establish their validity, were the problems to which 
Russell planned to address his next book* 

[ 211 1 



[212] Sovereign Reason 

Human Knowledge^ is the realization of RusselFs aim. It con- 
tains the fullest account he has ever given of his views on probable 
inference, and on the justification of knowledge that is claimed 
to be objective. But the book contains more than this. Russell 
was somewhat less than accurate in characterizing his long career 
in philosophy as having been concerned mainly with mathematical 
logic. On the contrary, he has been intensely preoccupied with 
central issues in epistemology for almost two score years. A by 
no means negligible value of the present book lies in its presenta- 
tion, in systematic and perhaps final form, of analyses of special 
questions in theory of knowledge with which Russell has long 
been identified— questions ranging from problems of language and 
meaning, to issues connected with space, time, and causality. There 
have been shifts in the details of his philosophy both in emphasis 
and substance. Perhaps the most important of these, especially in 
reference to the argument of the present volume, is his qualified 
acceptance of what he used to recommend as the “supreme maxim 
of scientific philosophizing.” According to this maxim, since infer- 
ences to unobservable objects are always precarious, they ought 
to be replaced by the entirely safe device of defining such sup- 
posed objects in terms of directly experienced data. Russell now 
believes that science cannot dispense with such inferences and 
has abandoned his earlier phenomenalism. Nevertheless, Russell’s 
present account of the nature of knowledge does not diflFer essen- 
tially from the doctrines to which his readers have become accus- 
tomed. And in any case, the central problem of the book— the 
justification of scientific knowledge— is a direct consequence of 
the approach to the theory of knowledge he has been developing 
for several decades. 

The logical starting-point of Russell’s discussion is the assump- 
tion that if anything is to be known by inference, some things 
must be known directly and without inference. But for him what 
we know directly is inherently mental, private, and subjective; 
and his task is to show how, from the fragmentary data of sensa- 
tion, genuine knowledge of the objective world can be obtained. 
Moreover, while the evidence for science comes from common- 
sense— the view according to which the objects of our experience 

I. Htmian Kno'wledge: Its Scope and Limits, By Bertrand Russell. New 
York: Simon and Schuster, 1948. $5.00. 



The Basis of Human Knowledge [ 213 ] 

really do possess the qualities they appear to possess— Russell main- 
tains that science proves common-sense to be false; roses are not 
really red, nor is the sun really hot and bright. What, then, is the 
warrantable content of scientific propositions, and how can we 
warrant them as valid? 

Now it is evident that the conclusions of science cannot be 
deduced by strict logic from the data of direct experience; and 
if science is to be possible, various principles of non-demonstra- 
tive inference must therefore be accepted. However, these prin- 
ciples enable us to obtain objective knowledge only of abstract 
structures. The objective qualities of things— if indeed they have 
any— are therefore hidden from us. Furthermore, Russell maintains 
that these principles of inference are warranted only on condi- 
tion that the world possesses certain general characteristics; and 
the climax of his analysis consists in enumerating and specifying 
the assumptions which, if true, are sufficient to justify scientific 
inference. On the other hand, these ultimate postulates of science 
cannot in turn be justified with the help of the usual methods of 
experimental science, since according to Russell scientific method 
can be shown to be valid only if we grant the truth of these pos- 
tulates. Experience can confirm these ultimate assumptions, but 
it can neither prove them nor make them probable; and yet with- 
out knowing them to be true we can have no rational basis for 
our belief in science. Russell is thus driven to the conclusion that 
the postulates of scientific inference must be known in some 
extra-scientific fashion, so that empiricism as a theory of knowledge 
is found in the end to be inadequate. “Either we know something 
independently of experience, or science is moonshine.” 

As always, Russell develops his arguments with refreshing 
vigor and bold but responsible ingenuity, and his detailed dis- 
cussion of special issues will undoubtedly revitalize professional 
thinking on these subjects. Nevertheless, at least two major diffi- 
culties will prevent some of his readers from accepting his main 
argument. In the first place, Russell assumes, in the company of a 
long line of distinguished philosophers, that all inferential knowl- 
edge must be based on knowledge that is both immediate and pri- 
vate. However, a careful examination of his examples of direct 
knowledge raises fundamental doubts as to whether anything is 
known in this way. For his examples, as well as his over-all analyas:. 



[ 2 14 ] Sovereign Reason 

do not settle the question whether the alleged data of direct appre- 
hension are logically pri?mtivess Russell’s theory requires them 
to be— or whether the cognitive apprehension of those data is not 
actually contingent upon prior inferential processes and upon 
acquired modes of organic behavior. It is certainly not a matter 
of direct knowledge whether some specific item (for example, 
my seeing a flash of lightning) is known immediately or only by 
inference; and a considerate body of objective knowledge must 
be assumed when one attempts to establish whether a given datum 
of experience is logically primitive or involves inference. There is 
therefore ground for suspicion that the alleged necessity for basing 
all inferential knowledge on knowledge that is inherently private 
and subjective, is the dialectical necessity generated by Russell’s 
framework of analysis, rather than the inescapable outcome of an 
independent inquiry into the circumstances under which knowl- 
edge is obtained. But if this is so, the relevance of much of his 
reconstruction of scientific knowledge is placed m serious jeopardy. 

The second difficulty to which reference has been made is 
connected with Russell’s central problem of justifymg non-demon- 
strative inferences. Everyone will agree that we do not possess 
demonstrative knowledge of many things (for example, that the 
earth is a flattened sphere) which is nevertheless beyond reason- 
able doubt. In such cases, the evidence for what we claim to know 
is not sufficient for logically deducing the asserted conclusion, 
though it is sufficient for accepting the conclusion without serious 
risk of error. Now what is one to understand by the demand that 
such knowledge be justified? If the demand is so conceived that 
the conclusions of non-demonstrative inferences must be shown 
to be logically necessary consequences of premises known to be 
true, then it is obvious that no claim to objective knowledge can 
ever be justified— unless assumptions are introduced which must 
be known independently of experience. However, the impossi- 
bility of satisfying the demand without adopting assumptions of 
this sort does not prove that we can have no warranted knowledge 
except by abandoning empiricism. The impossibility simply calls 
attention to the fact that the demand is an inappropriate one. Why 
should we accept for non-demonstrative arguments standards of 
validity rightly required for strictly deductive ones? Now, indeed, 
Russell formally disavows the idea of seeking a deductive justifica- 



The Basis of Human Knowledge [215] 

tion for scientific inference. Nevertheless, his actual analysis is 
based squarely on a conception of “justification” that coincides 
with the one he nominally rejects. For he introduces postulates of 
scientific inference which must be known independently of experi- 
ence, precisely because he wants to prove deductively that non- 
demonstrative inferences are valid. But if this idea is surrendered 
as hopeless because misguided, the fact that science employs such 
postulates as Russell mentions no longer requires to be interpreted 
as showing the limits of empiricism. Indeed, in adopting that in- 
terpretation Russell exhibits himself as operating, malgre lui, from 
the intellectual premises of traditional rationalism. On the con- 
trary, those postulates can be intelligibly conceived as rules war- 
ranted by their matter-of-fact success in ordering experience. They 
are known to be true, not independently of experience, but on the 
basis of the same sort of empirical evidence that serves as the 
foundation for warranted knowledge throughout science. 

Russell has not settled the question he proposed to resolve in 
this book. None the less, disagreement with his analyses— even dis- 
agreement with his major thesis— constitutes no bar to profound 
admiration for Russell’s devotion to philosophy as a rational dis- 
cipline, and for the scope and penetration of his discussion. “Hu- 
man Knowledge” is an impressive and stimulating intellectual 
adventure, written in masterly prose by a master of contemporary 
thought. 



iS 

Eddington’s Philosophy of Physical Science 


1 . 

Thb BREAK WITH the familiar qualities of our everyday world, 
which modern science since Kepler and Galileo has introduced, 
has been accentuated by the recent developments in physics. Pro- 
fessor Eddington in this book^ gives an account for the lay reader 
of the most striking of these developments, and argues for a re- 
interpretation of the place of the world of science and the world 
of daily experience in the scheme of reality. His conclusion is 
that the subject matter of physics is only a partial aspect of some- 
thing wider, that mind, endowed with “freedom,” is necessary to 
mediate between the realm of physical concepts and “actuality,” 

I. The Nature of the Physical World, by A. S. Eddington. (Macmillan, 
rozS.) $3.75. 


[ znS ] 



Eddington^ s Philosophy of Physical Science [ 217 ] 

and that the intrinsic nature of this actuality is spiritual and akin 
to consciousness. 

Eddington’s philosophic kit is loaded with ideas that seem to 
be inherited from a darker philosophic age, and important use is 
made of them with no effort at their critical evaluation. It is a 
dogma with Eddington that the quahties we commonly associate 
with things are a mental product, that our daily experience is an 
illusion (p. xii). It is a dogma with him that knowledge is never 
of things external to us, but of certain associated qualities occur- 
ring in the brain, and that the steps of the inference to the external 
world exactly reverse the steps of the physical transmission which 
brought the information (pp. 270, 278). From these premises it 
follows that the world of physics is the “real” world, although it 
is only the structure of the real world that science obtains, since 
the intrinsic quality of things (with a solitary exception in the 
case of our own ego) is an inscrutable somewhat not known to 
us (p. 254). 

It is for such reasons that Eddington finds the world of physics 
symbolical or abstract— symbolical, indeed, not of the things of 
daily experience (which have the status of appearance), but of the 
inner essences of this appearance. It is plausible to believe, how- 
ever, that had he kept clear the distinction between objects of 
knowledge and the physical conditions or correlates of knowledge, 
he would have never arrived at this metaphysical dualism. 

To the confounding of this distinction Eddington adds some 
others. Symbols have a reference beyond themselves, and at the 
same time symbols have specific characters of their own. Now 
there seems no reason in calling the world of physics symbolic if 
we are never permitted to know what the symbols stand for. The 
moves in a chess game may be symbolic of army manoeuvres, and 
the numerals in a book may be symbolic of counting; but if we 
never know what the moves in chess or the numerals stand for, it 
is not as symbols that they are studied since their referents do not 
determine the course of the inquiry. Either the referents of the 
world of physics do condition the symbolism, and then we know 
what they are, or physics is not symbolic. However, “knowledge” 
is a word with many meanings for Eddington: sometimes It means 
the possession or enjoyment of sensory and affective qualities; 
sometimes it means the po^ession of the representative or sign 



[ 2i8 ] Sovereign Reason 

function of qualities which are then not always “known” in the 
j&rst sense. If one assumes the dogma that only the immediate is 
real, and if one takes knowledge in the second sense, it is easy, 
therefore, to argue that the symbolic character of knowledge makes 
it incapable of grasping reality. Nevertheless, it seems permissible 
to retort that knowledge, when it is taken as the inferential func- 
tion, is symbolic as well as adequate to grasp reality: the psycho- 
physical earners of meanings are not like the meanings they carry, 
nor are the meanings hke things; but the meanings are meanings 
of things and symbolize things in the sense that they denote types 
of experimentally obtainable reactions between things. 

Eddmgton’s difficulties with these matters come to a head in his 
treatment of change of entropy as symbolic of the irreversibility 
of time (pp. 88 ff.). Color for him is a quality purely mental, not 
an ingredient of the real world of electro-magnetic waves. But the 
dynamic character of time, of “becoming,” he insists is a genuine 
quality of nature, even though the physical conditions for the 
recognition of this quality seem to be the same as those for the 
recognition of any other. To save “becoming” for nature, Edding- 
ton, consistently enough, must suppose that in this case the nerve 
mechanism does not intervene and that the dynamical character of 
time, grown suspiciously substantial for a relativist (cf. p. 97, 
where we are told of the “moving on” of time), is observed not 
through the sense organs but by a private door of the mind. Mind 
turns out to be something with physical properties dwelling in 
the body (cf. p. 31 1). Ordinarily there is a double symbolism in 
Eddington’s system. Color is something that occurs in the mind, 
but is symbolic or equivalent in consciousness to the electro-mag- 
netic waves. Secondly, these waves have a structure which is known 
but which is nevertheless symbolic of qualities not “known” and 
unknowable. If in the case of “becoming” this dualism vanishes it 
is because “I grasp the notion of becoming because I myself be- 
come. It is the innermost Ego of all which is and becomes^'' (p. 97). 

In spite of Eddington’s clear perception that nature is something 
richer than physics officially declares, he persists in confounding 
the subject matter of physics with the data of the physicist. His 
argument is that since all of our scientific information is summed 
up in measures, and since the mezsmt-numbers^ as such, offer no 
ground for making qualitative distinctions in nature, no such dis- 



Eddingtoffs Philosophy of Physical Science [ 219 ] 

tinctions exist for science. But while it is true that at a certain 
level of investigation all that the scientist may use are the measure- 
numbers and be indifferent as to how they are obtained, surely a 
philosophy of science cannot stop at that level (if indeed it were 
even possible for science to do so). It is only when the locus of 
those measure-numbers is discovered in certain qualitative con- 
tinuities, familiar enough in our common experience, that the 
predictive power of science becomes intelligible. It is adopting a 
very narrow behaviorism to say that “two tons is the reading of 
the pointer when the elephant is placed on a weighing machine,*’ 
since an adequate statement of what a pointer reading is involves 
just those qualities which had been supposed excluded. 

Eddington is bent upon showing that the characteristic features 
of the world of physics are introduced by Mind (with a capital): 
“ultimately it is the mind that decides what is lumber— what part 
of our building will shadow the things of common experience, and 
which has no such counterpart” (p. 235). However, his failure to 
indicate in what contexts such selections are made makes his ac- 
count very unilluminating. In one sense, everything is decided by 
mind, since deciding is something that only a mind can do. But 
the force of Eddington’s insistence upon the truistic character of 
physical laws is gone if one remembers that decision and choice 
can arise only when subject matter possesses traits which may be 
chosen. To say that the prominence of conservation laws is due 
to the mind’s demand for permanence is doubtless important; some 
things are conserved only because other things are not, and if we 
study the conserved things we certainly select. But if we were to 
study the things which are not conserved, as we sometimes do, we 
would be exercising selection also. Since the mind is alnrays se- 
lective, no light is thrown upon the metaphysical status of any 
entities by pointing out that they are selected. The relevant ques- 
tion, the only one of value, is why or in what context the selection 
is made. Moreover, the thesis that the laws of field-physics are 
only truisms is a bad pun. The argument is that concepts like 
matter and energy obey these laws only because matter and 
energy have been so defined as to obey them. On this argument, 
every equation, for example, would be a truism, because its roots 
when they are found identically satisfy it upon substitution- But 
the truism appears only ujxin a condition; and the condition is 



[ 2 20 ] Sovereign Reason 

just that one which enables us to say that “the sky is blue” without 
“sky” and “blue” being identical. 

The last four chapters of the book are an argument for iden- 
tifying the unknown intrinsic natures of sub-atomic entities with 
qualities akin to mind. The argument is similar to Schopenhauer’s 
identification of the thing-in-itself with the will. Finally, there 
is a defense of the qualities intuited by the mystic as being genuine 
qualities of nature. If the foregoing analysis is at all correct Ed- 
dington has no right to his conclusions. 


2 . 

Without covering all the ground traversed by his earlier philo- 
sophical writings, the present volume**^ contains the essentials of 
Eddington’s familiar interpretation of science— but with not even 
a shred of comfort for his many critics in the form of retractions 
from his previously expressed views. Indeed, Eddington is more 
confident than ever that philosophical idealism is the logical out- 
come of contemporary physics, and that the “matter” of which 
physics yields structural knowledge is something akin to conscious- 
ness. He is now convinced that quantum laws no less than the 
laws of molar physics are “mind-made,” and that the “objective 
laws of governance” (if any such laws there be and which at one 
time he believed were supplied by quantum theory) mu^ be sought 
in types of behavior not accounted for in the present scheme of 
physical science— in biology, psychology, life, consciousness, and 
spirit. The distinctive feature of the present book is its frank 
epistemological approach, with its insistence that the theory of 
knowledge should be the point of departure for understanding 
the nature of the physical world. It maintains that the “funda- 
mental laws” of nature are subjective, that they can be deduced 
from purely epistemological considerations with the consequence 
that these laws are both truistic and necessary, and that our sen- 
sory and intellectual equipment imposes these laws upon the ma- 
terials directly accessible for study. This, in brief, is Eddington’s 
philosophy of “selective subjectivism,” which without neglecting 
Berkeley acknowledges its allegiance more definitely to Kant. 

2, The Fhilosophy of Physical Science. Sir Arthur Eddington. (Tamer 
Lectures, 1958.) New York: The Macmillan CJompany. 1939. ix + 230 pp. 
$2 .50. 



Eddington’s Philosophy of Physical Science [ 221 ] 

However, although Eddington has not been convinced by his 
critics, his critics are not likely to find the present version of his 
philosophy more plausible than the previous ones. He insists that 
the physical universe must be identified as the world “described” 
by the science of physics (p. i), and also that epistemological con- 
clusions must be subjected to the same kind of observational con- 
trol as are the hypotheses of physics (p. 5). But if physics and 
epistemology are admitted to have the same logical status, why 
should the deliverances of the latter be taken to be more pene- 
trating and fundamental than those of the former, and why should 
the “reality” of the physical world be more disputable than is 
the “reality” of the operations of thought (pp. 3, 18 ff., 23)? 
Again, what is the sense of calling the “fundamental laws” of na- 
ture subjective if, as it turns out, selective subjectivism is a per- 
vasive feature of all knowledge^* (Eddington does not illustrate 
these laws clearly, but declares that they are the “differential 
equations determining the progress of the universe,” p. 63.) For 
even the features of experience said to be objective (such as 
the manifestations of consciousness) must also be the outcome of 
the selective subjectivism of our sensory and intellectual equip- 
ment (cf. pp. 114, 148, 195, 217). If the “objective laws of gov- 
ernance” would also have to be presented to us via our subjective 
forms of thought (p. 66), the distinction between subjective and 
objective has no longer an ascertainable sense, and the terms do 
not continue to carry the meanings initially associated with them. 
Eddington maintains that it is not necessarily a disproof of the 
a priori and subjective character of physical laws that they are 
clearly illustrated by prominent features of the familiar world 
(p. 133). But if that is so, what could disprove this claim, and 
why isn’t Eddington’s philosophy of selective subjectivism just a 
necessary truism, because of the definitions of his terms, with the 
consequence that it too is only “subjective”? In any case, he can 
not avoid the paradox of having to impugn the “reality” and 
the objectivity of our physical knowledge, just because we must 
think in order to know, only to accept the objective reality of 
philosophical idealism. Physical knowledge presupposes reflective 
thought and therefore selection. Does Eddington believe thsa: the 
knowledge claimed by idealism does not? But perhai® that is ex- 
actly the not altogether flattering import of his reminder that ‘Sve 



[ 22 2 ] Sovereign Reason 

just can not help being brainy, and must try to make the best of 
it” (p. 195). 

That Eddington’s philosophy of science is a consequence of a 
systematic misuse of terms has been urged against him before 
(notably by Miss Stebbing, whom he dismisses with a quip), and 
can be easily established. Thus, to begin with small points, the 
physical world which was initially identified as that which is “de- 
scribed” by our physical knowledge, is presently said to be an as- 
sociation of pointer-readings (pp. loo-ioi) presented as the con- 
tents of an individual consciousness (p. 195). But the physical 
universe identified in the first way is a universe containing gravi- 
tating bodies, accelerated particles, electrical currents, and the 
like, and it is only by a sleight of hand that these can be said to 
be pointer-readings in consciousness. Again, what student of rela- 
tivity will recognize the essence of that theory to consist in the 
fact that “we observe only relations between physical entities” 
(p. 31)? Is it very surprising if now the theory of relativity can 
be “deduced” from the forms of thought? And even though Ed- 
dington follows respectable authorities in saying it, can anyone 
who has ever employed the Newtonian gravitational formula in 
solving a mechanical problem honestly characterize it as being 
simply a summary statement of what we have observed (p. 44)^ 

Eddington maintains that we can be certain of the universal 
validity of the “fundamental laws” of nature because we ourselves 
impose them upon experience. But even if the formal deduction 
of these laws from the forms of thought is granted (in the present 
book Eddington supplies only the barest outline of the alleged 
deduction), it is soon evident that this claim means much less than 
what it at first sight appears to mean. For he readily admits that 
these laws tell us nothing about the “special facts” of nature— 
such facts as that the density of matter in many regions of the 
universe is vanishingly small, or that the earth is spherical. In 
fact, the interpretation of the “fundamental laws” as laws for 
familiar physical objects can not be made on a priori grounds, as 
Eddington acknowledges in so many words (p. 134), and the 
boundary conditions for the differential equations must admittedly 
be supplied by experimental physics (p. 63). It thus turns out 
that the “fundamental laws” of nature are simply uninterpreted 
formulae, and that the a priori deduction that Eddington claims 



Eddington^ s Philosophy of Physical Science [223] 

for them is nothing other than the deduction of theorems in a 
branch of pure mathematics. But it is one thing to make the claim 
that pure mathematics consists in the deduction of consequences 
from freely chosen postulates, and quite another thing to maintain 
that what has been deduced is a law in the positive science of 
physics. 

Eddington’s claim to be able to deduce the numerical values 
of certain “constants of nature” must be adjudged in a similar 
way. It is certainly possible to determine a priori the value of 
constants: for example, to calculate theoretically the value of the 
angle-sum of a triangle in Euclidean demonstrative geometry. If 
then we employ Euclidean geometry as the theory of physical 
measurement, we may be quite certain that every physical tnangle 
will have its angle-sum equal to two right angles. But issues of 
empirical fact are not thereby eliminated— they are simply shifted 
to another place. Whether a given physical configuration is in- 
deed a Euclidean triangle remains a question which involves not 
merely issues of pure mathematics but also of experimental phys- 
ics. In general, therefore, in a systematic exposition of a science 
it is possible to begin with general principles and to show that all 
the known facts fit into the framework of the theory. But a sys- 
tem of abstract formulae is not a theory of physics, until its terms 
are interpreted as referring at some point to observational ma- 
terial; and it is not an adequate theory, unless it provides solu- 
tions for problems which can be identified without using that 
theory as the sole mode of identification. For if a theory always 
determines whether something claimed to be an observational test 
of the theory is “really” an observation, it is not a physical theory 
at all, and there is no point whatsoever in conducting experiments 
for testing it. Not the least puzzling feature of Eddington’s views 
is that they are not obviously compatible with the facts that phys- 
ics has a history and that experiments continue to be made. 

It is now a matter of common knowledge that what appear to 
be laws of physics may sometimes be “disguised definitions” or 
“conventions”— even though at one time these laws were empiri- 
cal generalizations. Such “disguised definitions” are best con- 
strued as demands or postulates, in terms of which subject-matter 
is analyzed and the system of physical knowledge organized. To 
the extent that Eddington emphasizes this feature of theoretical 



[ 2 24 ] Sovereign Reason 

physics, and to the extent that he recognizes that such postulates 
could in principle be retained no matter what the “special facts” 
may be, his philosophy of science has a sound core. But to build 
a philosophy simply on this is to build on a half-truth. For in 
the first place, the conventional status of a principle is a function 
of the particular organization of physical science at a given time. 
To say that a law is a convention requires supplementation by a 
specification of its function in the system of physics— -where the 
system of physics as a vohole is not accepted on definitional grounds 
alone. But in the second place, the introduction of a postulate or 
“disguised definition” is usually made on the tacit assumption 
that there are in fact measurable properties of bodies which sat- 
isfy the conditions stipulated by the postulate. Thus, the prin- 
ciple of the invariance of mechanical laws with respect to certain 
transformations may be construed as a convention. But its fer- 
tility depends on the fact that bodies do have measurable traits 
and relations which satisfy the indicated conditions, and that these 
properties (e.g., mass, velocity, etc.), are those in terms of which 
the behavior of things under discussion can be understood and 
predicted. It is easy enough to institute conventions, it is not so 
easy to set up such conventions which will be fruitful in the solu- 
tion of specific problems. And it is pertinent to note that Edding- 
ton himself admits that while the “fundamental laws” are “com- 
pulsory,” there is no compulsion that actual observations shall 
satisfy them (p. 20). 

It is admittedly important to determine which propositions of 
the sciences are asserted on factual or contingent grounds, and 
which are definitory and postulational. But the analysis has not 
been carried far enough if it terminates in the conclusion that 
such postulates are adopted simply because of the inherent struc- 
ture of thought or if it neglects the factual basis of theoretical sci- 
ence. There is just one way to understand without illusion what 
is the import of the methodological principles of a science— and 
that is by exhibiting their identifiable functions in inquiry. The 
source of Eddington’s defects as a philosopher of science can be 
plausibly located in his refusal to perform such an analysis. 



Probability 

and the Theory of Knowledge 


Irofessor Reichenbach’s writings have repeatedly called atten- 
tion. to the imporant role which probability statements play in all 
inquiry, and he has made amply clear that no philosophy of science 
can be regarded as adequate which does not square its accounts 
with the problems of probable inference. Recently he has brought 
together in convenient form^ many reflections on the methodoh 
ogy of science familiar to readers of his earlier works, and at the 
same time he has set himself the task of solving many well-known 
problems of epistemology in terms of his theory of probability. 
His latest book is therefore of great interest, both because of the 
light it throws on Professor Reichenbach^s own views and because 
it reveals the power and limitations of one approach to the profa- 

I, Experience md Fredictionf Chicago, 1958. All page references, unless 
otherwise indicated, are to this book. 

[ 225 1 



[ 2 26 ] Sovereign Reason 

lems of science. In particular, while it does not add to the details 
of his theory of probability worked out elsewhere, the applica- 
tions Professor Reichenbach now makes of it supply fresh clues 
for judging its import and adequacy. The object of the present 
essay, therefore, is to expound a number of his views on probabil- 
ity and epistemology, with a view to examining his conclusions 
and their relevance to the problems he aims to resolve. The dis- 
cussion will try to determine whether several features of his present 
views do not follow from assumptions which he has not suffi- 
ciently considered; whether his logical constructions do not create 
new puzzles; and whether a different starting-point should not be 
taken if the clarification of scientific concepts and procedures, to 
which Professor Reichenbach’s devotion is as unexcelled as it is 
well known, is to be successfully conducted. 


I. 

At the risk of repeating familiar things, it will be best to begin 
with a brief exposition of Professor Reichenbach’s general views 
on probability. They are distinguished by three features* his 
claim that a univocal interpretation can be given to all probability 
statements in terms of limits of relative frequencies; his introduc- 
tion of the infinitely gradated property weight to characterize 
propositions; and his consequent proposal to replace the allegedly 
inadequate two-valued logic of truth and falsity by the infinite- 
valued logic of probability or weights. These features must now 
be explained in outline. 

Professor Reichenbach takes as the basic type of probability 
statements those with the form illustrated by: “For every cor- 
related pair XiYi (Xi being a man undergoing medical examination 
at a given time and yi being that man a year later), Xi is tubercu- 
lar implies with degree of probability p that yi is dead.” He main- 
tains that the triadic relation probability implication is a general- 
ization of Russell’s formal implication^ illustrated by “For every 
X, X is diagnosed as tubercular implies that x dies within a year.” 
However, Professor Reichenbach interprets the expression “implies 
with degree of probability p” as follows: Let hj^ be the relative 
frequency in the first n terms of the series with which the j’s die 
when the correlated x’s are tubercular, and suppose hn converges 
to a limit p zs n increases without limit; p is then the degree of 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 227 ] 

the probability implication. Professor Reichenbach believes that 
such an interpretation can always be given to probability state- 
ments, and maintains that it is the only suitable and adequate one. 
He also declares that probability statements can be formulated so 
as to express indifferently relations between classes of “events” (or 
happenings) or between classes of propositions. 

It immediately follows that the attribution of a degree of prob- 
ability literally to a single happening or a sm^e proposition is 
devoid of sense. However, statements which seem to assign prob- 
abilities to single happenings do occur and seem to make good 
sense— as when it is said that it is more probable that Napoleon was 
ill at the battle of Leipzig than that Caspar Hauser was the son 
of a prince. Some students have therefore concluded that in such 
cases a different interpretation must be assigned to the term “prob- 
able” than is required on the frequency view, and they have 
consequently held that the term is not univocaL But Professor 
Reichenbach insists that such a “disparity” view of probabihty is 
not necessary. Thus, in the example cited, he regards the differ- 
ence in probabilities assigned to the two propositions as arising 
from the difference in the kind of documents which support the 
two statements; one kind is more reliable because its statements 
are confirmed with a greater relative frequency than those in the 
second kind. 

For reasons which will be considered presently, no factual state- 
ments, according to Professor Reichenbach, can be known to be 
true (or false). Thus, we do not know that the next toss with a 
given die will show a prime number of dots uppermost. Never- 
theless, we would be willing to wager on that happening because 
the probability associated with the class of such happenings is 
high (2/3 in this case). This probability, though strictly appli- 
cable to classes of happenings (or propositions), may be taken as 
the measure of the goodness of a wager on a single happening; 
when so used, the probability functions as the weight of the prop- 
osition about this single occurrence. Hence the possible numerical 
values of the weight are the real numbers in the interval o to / 
inclusively; and according to Profe^r Reichenbach, since the 
truth or falsity of factual propositions can not be determined in 
practice, the weights of propositions are the practical surrogates 
of their truth-values. This is a point of fundamental importance in 



[ 228 ] Sovereign Reason 

Professor Reichenbach’s analysis. He maintains that if we assign 
weights to propositions (in his sense of “weight”), our acceptance 
of some propositions and rejection of others “can be justified” 
because in acting upon propositions with high weights “we shall 
have in the long run the greatest number of successes.” (p. 310) 

Because the determination of the truth or falsity of propositions 
is not feasible and because we are compelled to operate with them 
in terms of their weights, Professor Reichenbach concludes that 
a two-valued logic is not a satisfactory instrument for science; 
he therefore proposes an infinite-valued logic of probability, of 
which the ordinary two-valued logic is claimed to be a specializa- 
tion. For the details of this new logic the reader must be referred 
to Professor Reichenbach’s writings: ^ its elements are no longer 
single propositions but propositionaUsequences^ each containing 
an infinite set of propositions and each being associated with a 
real number in the interval 0 to z. Professor Reichenbach main- 
tains that if this number is interpreted as the limit of the relative 
frequency with which members of the sequence are true, we ob- 
tain the usual mathematical calculus of probability; while if it is 
interpreted as the weight of any of the members of the sequence 
we obtain what defenders of the “disparity view” call the logical 
concept of probability. His conclusion is, therefore, that the mathe- 
matical and logical concepts of probability are structurally identi- 
cal, so that the disparity view is demonstrably mistaken (p. 325). 
Finally, he develops the idea of probabilities of higher orders, in 
terms of which he is able to discuss the probability (and so the 
weight) of probability statements themselves. According to Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach, general no less than singular statements can 
be characterized in terms of weights, and he therefore argues that 
scientific theories themselves may be discussed in terms of the 
frequency theory of probability. 

2. 

For lack of space this paper will not be concerned with most of 
the details of Professor Reichenbach’s probability theory;^ but it 

2. Especially W ahrscheinbchkeitslehre, Leiden, 1935. See also “Ueber 
Induktion und Wahrscheinlichkeit ” Erkenntnis^ Bd. V, and “Les fondements 
logiques du calcul des probabilites,” Anmles de Hnstitut Henri Poincare^ 
T. VII. 

3. For the sake of completeness, however, I add the following summary of 



Probability and the Theory of Knonvledge [ 229 ] 

is essential to examine more closely his conception of weight be- 
cause of the uses to which he puts it in his discussions of epistemol- 
ogy. 

It is evident that the w^eight of a proposition is determined in 
precisely the same way in which a probability coefficient is ob- 
tained. Now probability is defined in terms of the limit of rela- 
tive frequencies in infinite series; and it will be therefore obvious 
that the numerical value of a probability can not be calculated by 
examining a finite number of elements in such series. In other 
words, no hypothesis as to what is the probability of some desig- 

some obvious difficulties in Professor Reichenbach’s formulation of his system* 

a) Probability implication is said to be a generalization of RusselFs formal 
implication. This question has been discussed m some detail by Miss Janina 
Hosiasson (“La theone des probability est-elle une logique generalist?”, 
Actes du Congres International de Philosophie Scienttfique, Pans, 1935, IV) 
w ho points out that m at least three distinct senses of “generalization” this is 
not the case. Will not therefore Professor Reichenbach indicate in precisely 
what sense of the term does he believe his claim is true? He has promised 
to reply to this type of cndcism, but at the date of wrinng this reply is 
unfortunately not available. But however that may be, his formal calculus is 
obviously not sausfactonly formulated, since he does not specify ail the re- 
quired rules in terms of which the formalism of probability implication is to 
be treated. 

b) Professor Reichenbach has recently admitted (Philosophy of Science^ 
Vol. 5, p. 22) that the many-valued logic as developed in his WahrscheiTtlich- 
keitslehre is formulated in the semantical 4 anguage. He claims nonetheless that 
die structure of this logic is isomorphic with, the structure of the calculus of 
probabihty as formulated in the object-language of science. But he nowhere 
gives a proof of this isomorphism, and Dr. C. G. Hempel has recently pointed 
out (“On the logical form of probability statements,” Erkenntms^ Bd. VII, 
p. 157) that this isomorphism does not in fact obtain. The transition from 
one formulation of the calculus to the other, is not, as Professor Reichenbach 
apparently believes, simply a matter of “adding quotation marks.” 

c) Professor Reichenbach insists that his logic of probability is an “exten- 
sional system.” The pomt at issue may be only a verbal one. There^ are, 
however, standard definitions of the phrase “extensional logic” in the fitera- 
ture, and according to such definitions his system is not extensional. It is not 
clear what Professor Reichenbach means by saying that “a relation is inten- 
sional if it depends on the intension of the propositions” (Philosophy of 
Sciencey Vol. 5, p. 25); in any case “intension” is not a term which can safely 
be used in discussing logical foundations without a more careful formulation 
of its usage than he gives. 

d) Professor Reichenbach claims that his probability io^c is a genuine 
many-valued logic,” if propositional-sequeuces rather than ^ngje propositioin 
are taken as its elements. However, the logical connectives between prop^i- 
tionai-sequences are introduced in terms of the familiar logical connectives 
of the two-valued logic (cf. p. 324). It is thetefore not clear why he dmes 
that his many-valued systmi is built upon a basic two-valued logic in which 
propositions have just two possible truth-values. 



[ 230 ] Sovereign Reason 

nated property can be either conclusively established or con- 
clusively refuted by an inquiry which is necessarily limited to 
the examination of a finite quantity of evidence. It therefore fol- 
lows that the weight of a proposition can not be definitely estab- 
lished by any finite number of observations. Two questions thus 
force themselves upon us: i) By what procedure does Professor 
Reichenbach propose to assign weights to propositions? 2) In 
what way is the weight of a proposition a practical surrogate of 
its truth-value? 

i) Professor Reichenbach’s answer to the first question requires 
a discussion of his Principle of Induction and his theory of higher- 
order probabilities. Suppose then that in order to estimate the 
probability of getting a head with a coin we toss it n times, and 
find that the head turns up m times; the relative frequency of 

m 

heads in this series of tosses is thus == '“• We do not know 

n 

that IS the probability of getting a head, but we may “infer” 
that it is the limit (or close to the limit). In Professor Reichen- 
bach’s terminology, in inferring that hn is the probability we 
make a posit or wager ^ without knowing whether the posit is true. 
We naturally ask, therefore, what validates this inference. Accord- 
ing to him the “justification” is given by the Principle of Induc- 
tion, formulated as follows: “For any further prolongation of the 
series as far as s events {s > n)^ the relative frequency will remain 
within a small interval around h^, f.e., we assume the relation 
hn — c hg hn + c,” with the further proviso that there is 
such an hn for every c however small (p. 340). 

It is evident that this Principle is not demonstrable as a principle 
of logic or pure mathematics, and Professor Reichenbach stands 
firmly on the ground that it is not apriori either in a rationalistic 
or a Kantian sense. How then is the Principle itself to be “justi- 
fied”? His answer is ojffered as a solution of Hume’s problem: We 
do not know that the Principle is true; but then we do not know 
that it is false either. Let us therefore make our posits in accordance 
with the Inductive Rule: if is the relative frequency with which 
a property occurs in the first n terms of a series, we shall posit 
that remains within a narrow interval around hu for every 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 231 1 

prolongation of the series to ^ terms.^ Consequently, if the series 
has a limit, and if its value is estimated in accordance with this 
Rule— care being taken to correct the value of A as we take more 
and more terms of the series into account— we have instituted a 
necessary (though not a suflScient) condition for obtaining the 
value of the limit; for by taking the latest value of fen as the best 
value, we are necessarily approximating more and more closely 
to the limit if there is one. 

Some comments are now in order, a) The above formulation 
of the Principle of Induction may be misleading if Professor 
Reichenbach’s intent is not made explicit. For example, it is not 
true that whenever we toss a coin 100 times in 50 of which heads 
come uppermost, the relative frequency of heads will remain in 
the interval .50 ± .0001 for every further prolongation of the 
series of tosses. If the Principle were taken to imply such a con- 
sequence it would clearly be false. What Professor Reichenbach 
means is that for every € there is an n such that for every 5* greater 
than % fes lies in the interval fen ^ c; but Just what the specific 
value of n for which this is true is left undetermined. It is clear 
therefore than the Principle asserts nothing more than that the 
series in question does have a limit, b) It follows that even if we 
make posits in accordance with the Inductive Rule we can not 
assert, after no matter how many trials, that we know what the 
probability is or, correspondingly, what the weight of a proposi- 
tion is. No one is more cognizant of this fact than Professor 
Reichenbach. He points out that in positing a specific fe^n as the 
approximate value of the limit we are making a ‘‘blind wager,” 
because we do not in general know the weight of the proposition 
which asserts this value. In preceding according to the Inductive 
Rule we are therefore employing a self-corrective method, and 
Professor Reichenbach has performed a valuable service in point- 
ing this out clearly. But does the introduction of that procedure 
answer the problem which led to its introduction^ Are we now 
in any better position to say what the weight of any specific prop- 
osition is? 

Professor Reichenbach’s further discussion involves the use of 


4. WahrschemUchkeitslebrey p. 597. 



[ 232 ] Sovereign Reasofi 

higher-order probabilities and what he calls the method of “con- 
catenated induction,” with the help of which blind wagers are 
claimed to be converted into appraised wagers. This method is 
said to enable us to “supersede the inductive principle in all those 
cases in which it would lead us to a false result, or in which it 
would lead us too late to the right result” (p. 364). We must 
therefore study it in the context of some illustrations of its use 
which he offers. 

Carbon has not yet been liquefied, although most substances 
can be melted if raised to sufficiently high temperatures. Is it 
possible, however, to conclude anything about the fusibility of 
carbon? Letting “A” stand for the fact that a substance is in a 
liquid state at a certain temperature and “A” that it is not, 
Professor Reichenbach represents this state of affairs by the fol- 
lowing “probability lattice,” in which the letters are ordered from 
left to right according to increasing temperatures: 


Copper 

A 

A 

A 

A 

A 

Iron 

A 

A 

A 

A 

A 

Carbon 

A 

A 

A 

A 

A 


If an inductive inference is performed from left to right in all but 
the last line, the conclusion obtained is that the substances in 
question are in a liquid state when above a sufficiently high tem- 
perature; while such an inference performed in the last line yields 
the conclusion that carbon is not fusible. Each of these induc- 
tions is said to be on the “first level.” On the other hand, accord- 
ing to Professor Reichenbach, if now an inductive inference is 
performed in the vertical direction, it leads to the conclusion that 
carbon will melt at some temperature, because all the other sub- 
stances do so. This new induction is said to be on the “second 
level,” and Professor Reichenbach declares that “this induction 
of the second level supersedes an induction of the first level.” 
Each first-level induction is a blind wager, which posits that the 
limit of the relative frequency of melted states with increase of 
temperature equals 2 in all but the last row, and posits 0 for the 
final row. The second-level induction, on the other hand, in- 
volves counting the relative frequency with which posits of / 
occur, and itself posits that the probability of posits of o is vanish- 
ingly small. In brief, the second-level induction appraises the 



Probability and the Theory of Kno^doledge E ^33 ] 

weight of each of the blind first-level posits; and according to it 
the proposition that carbon is not fusible has a weight close to zero. 

Let us examine Professor Reichenbach’s argument, a) The ob- 
ject of the outlined procedure is to enable us to estimate the weights 
of propositions. But as he himself emphasizes, the second-level 
induction involves a blind wager; and even if we “transform’* it 
into an appraised wager by conducting inductions on higher and 
higher levels^ new blind wagers are inevitably introduced. In what 
way, therefore, are we any better off after carrying through any 
number of steps of such a theoretically endless process than before^ 
as far as determining what the weight of a proposition is? Must 
we not always be content with an estimate of a weight without 
knowing how good an estimate it is— unless procedures and as- 
sumptions not made explicit in the above account are introduced?® 

b) In terms of Professor Reichenbach’s procedure, the weight 
of the proposition “Copper has a melting-point” is high, because 
of the high relative frequency with which statements of the form 
“x has a melting point” are found to hold. It follows that if this 
relative frequency were small the weight of that proposition would 
also be small, even if all the evidence relevant to the behavior of 
copper would confirm its having a point of fusion. To take a 
similar case. Professor Reichenbach would have to say that “Water 

5. Another example given by Professor Reichenbach helps to bring this 
out even more clearly. He imagines three urns, containing white and black 
balls in the ratios 54 , 54 , and % respectively, but with no indication as to which 
urn contains which proportion. An um is now selected, a ball is drawn four 
times with replacement after each drawing, and it is discovered that a white 
ball has been picked three times. To the question: What is the probability 
that in drawing balls from this urn a white one appears^ the answer given is 
obtained by using the Inductive Rule. This, however, is a blind wager. 
Professor Reichenbach converts it into an appraised wager, and declares that 
the probability that this probability is 34 is equal to 27/46. This last number is 
a second-level weight, and is said to be greater than die second-level weights 
for the bind-wagers on 54 or 54- It is evident that this number is obtained 
with the help of Bayes Theorem, though Professor Reichenbach does not 
exhibit his method of derivation, on the assumption that the “inidal proba- 
bilities” for each um being selected are equal. How does Professor Reichen- 
bach “justify” this a^mpnon? The reader is told no more than that^ “fur- 
ther posits and posits of the blind ^e” must be made (p. 569); and in the 
more detailed exposition of such “justifications” in the WahrscheMichketts- 
lehre (§77), blind posits and new assumptions about the irregularity charac- 
terizing hypothetically infinite series are explicitly introduced. The farther 
one goes along with Professor Reichenbach the more puzzling it becomes 
why he regards that the problem of determining a weight is solved by him. 



[ 234 ] Sovereign Reason 

expands on freezing” has a low weight, because most substances 
contract on solidifying. But is “weight” defined as Professor 
Reichenbach defines it and which leads to such consequences, a 
term for which physicists, or for that matter students of the 
methodology of physics, can find a useful application? The con- 
trary seems to be the case. Indeed, the grounds we have for be- 
lieving in the fusibility of carbon are different from those sug- 
gested by the above account; they depend upon the theory of 
matter we accept because of the weight of evidejice we have for 
it, and from which the fusibility of carbon is a consequence— it 
being understood, however, that “the weight of evidence” for the 
theory is not to be construed in the way Professor Reichenbach 
understands his term “weight.” 

c) Professor Reichenbach’s predicate “weight” is the back door 
through which he reintroduces, in so many words, the conception 
of the probability of a single case, against which— and rightly so— 
frequentists have always been up in arms. The discussion thus far 
has tried to show that in order to evaluate the weight of one prop- 
osition, Professor Reichenbach is required to evaluate the weights 
of an infinite series of higher-level statements. But on his premisses, 
one must also be prepared to evaluate an infinite series of what 
might be called lower-level weights, before a given weight can 
be determined. For consider an actual case of estimating a prob- 
ability, for example, the probability of a normal coin falling heads. 
We must first count the frequency with which heads fall upper- 
most in a finite series of throws; we therefore toss a coin on a 
given occasion, watch it come to rest, note that the head is upper- 
most, and then continue this process. It would seem, therefore, 
that we must assert statements Hke “This coin on this occasion 
falls heads up.” But according to Professor Reichenbach we can 
not be completely certain of the truth of this statement, since it 
too possesses a “predictional element”— it possesses for us only a 
high weight, sufficiently close to /, so that we may treat it as true 
only by schematizing the infinite-valued logic of probability 
(p. 327). We are therefore led to ask how this allegedly high 
weight is to be determined. The weight Professor Reichenbach has 
in mind can not be obtained by regarding the proposition in ques- 
tion as a member of the propositional-sequence each element of 
which has the form “This coin on occasion x falls heads up”— 



Vrobability and the Theory of Knowledge I 235 ] 

for then its weight would be 54 and the procedure would be cir- 
cular. Its high weight must therefore accrue to it in virtue of its 
membership in a diflFerent propositional-sequence. But which one? 
Professor Reichenbach is not very confiding on this general point. 
Perhaps the one he has in mind is the class of propositions each 
of which is a statement by an observer that after the tossed coin 
has come to rest the head is noted uppermost; the high weight, 
close to of the original statement, would then be the value of a 
relative frequency in this class. If now we ask how this ratio is 
determined, we must count the frequency with which the ele- 
ments of this class are “true”— a procedure which once more in- 
volves a “schematization,” since what we call true is again only a 
high weight. We are therefore led once more to another proposi- 
tional-sequence, and then to another, and so ad infmtum. Even if 
the suggested propositional-sequence is not the one Professor 
Reichenbach has in mind, the conclusions drawn from this example 
would remain unchanged. Does Professor Reichenbach maintain 
that his use of the term “weight” formulates what is explicitly or 
implicitly done in the sciences and every-day inquiry, when we 
try to “justify” the acceptance of propositions which are to be 
used for action? Or is he proposing that such a procedure be insti- 
tuted as the only one which would “justify” the acceptance or 
rejection of propositions? If so, does he think that it is a practicable 
one? 

2 ) We must therefore turn to the second question— in what way 
is the weight of a proposition a practical surrogate of its truth- 
value? The gravamen of Professor Reichenbach’s objection to the 
two-valued logic of truth and falsity is that it is not possible to 
verify completely and finally a proposition as true or as false. But 
in order to make clear his position, he distinguishes three senses of 
“possibility.” Technical possibility involves the matter of fact 
human ability at a given time to institute and control certain pro- 
cedures; physical possibility involves compatibility with the laws 
of nature, regardless of human power; logical possibility involves 
no more than sheer logical consistency. Technical po^ibility does 
not enter into the discussion of complete verification; on the other 
hand, while Professor Reichenbach admits that final determination 
of a truth-value is logically possible, he also believe that the speci- 
fication of truth-values in terms of such a possibility is not “in 



[ 236 ] Sovereign Reason 

agreement with physics” (p, 42) and should be rejected, because 
it would permit many sentences to be meaningful which we would 
normally wish to exclude from being so. What about the physical 
possibility of complete verification? In the first place, some sen- 
tences are obviously not so verifiable, because of the character of 
the human organism: for example, propositions about a remote 
future or a remote past, propositions about the internal constitu- 
tion of the stars, and all universal propositions, including proba- 
bility statements interpreted in terms of limits of relative frequencies 
(pp. 40-42); and in the second place, Professor Reichenbach makes 
clear that even singular statements about the observable present 
are not completely verifiable either, because they all involve a 
“predictional component” so that in the context of the system of 
statements in which they occur they imply an indefinitely large 
class of consequences about things not directly observable (pp. 
50 if., 85). In brief, therefore, it is not possible to determine with 
finality the truth-value of propositions. This is the reason offered 
why we must pay attention to properties of propositions other 
than their truth-value, if we are going to take propositions as a 
basis for our actions (p. 66); and Professor Reichenbach maintains 
that the weight of propositions is just the property which is rele- 
vant for our purpose. 

He makes it perfectly plain that he regards weight as a property 
which it is physically possible to determine (p. 54) ; and his entire 
system sinks or swims with this contention. But if the previous 
discussion does not completely misunderstand him, it is evident 
that the weight of a proposition is no more determinable than is 
its truth-value. Professor Reichenbach declares that statements 
about single events at a definite spatio-temporal position might 
be supposed to be two-valued, but that as a matter of fact “it turns 
out that a determination remains a mere fiction as we never are 
able to determine the truth-value in question. All that we can do 
is make an assumption about the truth-value, based on observa- 
tion.”^ Is not Professor Reichenbach in exactly the same position 
with respect to the weight of such a proposition? Is he not there- 
fore compelled by his own criteria to regard as a “mere fiction” 
his infinite-valued logic? It may be granted to him, if for no other 


6. Philosophy of Science^ VoL 5, p. 28. 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 237 ] 

reason than for the sake of the argument, that the truth-value of a 
proposition can not be determined with finality. Will he not also 
grant that the weight can not be so determined?’^ In any case, 
there seems no way of escaping the conclusion that weighty con- 
ceived as Professor Reichenbach does, is no practical surrogate for 
truth and falsity. He believes that his theory of weights and higher 
order probabilities solves the problem of the application of the 
probability calculus to finite classes of elements, if ‘‘probability” 
is defined in terms of limits in infinite series. I would not like to 
be understood as minimizing the great importance and mgenuity 
of Professor Reichenbach’s contributions to the calculus of prob- 
ability; but I fail to see why a problem should be considered solved 
if the proposed solution involves difficulties of increasing com- 
plexity and obscurity. 


3 - 

Is it not relevant to ask, therefore, whether the impasse to which 
Professor Reichenbach’s scheme brings us is not a consequence of 
his assumption that all statements of probability are to be inter- 
preted in exactly the same way^ He is on solid ground when he 
maintains that many such statements require to be interpreted in 
the way he indicates. However, he also has his eye on the im- 
portant fact that all statements in empirical inquiry are theoreti- 
cally corrigible by further inquiry, so that statements accepted as 

7 Professor Reichenbach might reply that although we can not know the 
weight, we can wager on it. Surely. But why can not a like reply be made to 
his charge that we can not know the truth-value of a proposition^ Professor 
Reichenbach seems to me not infrequently to confuse the distinction between 
a proposition having a truth-value and our knowmg what this truth-value is. 
The real trouble in his discussion seems to me to rest on the fact that he has 
so defined many of his terms that it is not possible to apply them; in par- 
ticular, “knowledge,” “true,” and “weight” are so used by him that as a 
consequence we can never know the truth or the weight of any factual state- 
ment whatsoever- Are we not doing some violence to the language when we 
are compelled to say that we never know anything? There would be no point 
in having the term “know” if we consistendy used it that way. 

Incidentally, Professor Reichenbach explains that while truth involves a 
relation between a proposition and a fact, weights are a function of the state 
of our knowledge and may vary with the latter (p. 27). But the weight of 
a proposition, as he defines this term, is as much an “objective” property as 
truth is, and has nothing to do with the state of our knowledge. Has not 
Professor Reichenbach sHpped into a different conception of weight, at least 
at this point, from the one he officially avows, and is he not criticizing the 
two-valued logic from the stand-point of this unofficial view^ 



[ 238 ] Sovereign Reason 

true at one time may subsequently be rejected. But he expresses 
this fact by saying that “all statements are probable,” and does not 
seriously entertain the possibility that this expression may be 
equivocal. Against those who maintain that this is in fact the case, 
he declares that those who favor a “disparity” conception of prob- 
ability violate commonly accepted “principles of empiricism,” in 
particular the principle that all empirical statements be “verifiable” 
(p. 304). This charge, however, is a gross begging of the question; 
it involves the gratitous assumption that what some adherents of 
the “disparity view” call vo eight of evidence or degree of con- 
frmation must conform to the same formal conditions of calcula- 
tion as does probability conceived as a relative frequency (cf. p. 
305)— so that as a consequence the only genuine alternative to his 
own views would be the theory of Laplace and his successors. 

In other words, Professor Reichenbach does not seem to be 
sensitive to the distinction between the (limit of the) relative fre- 
quency with which sentences of a certain form are true in an 
infinite class of such sentences, and the relative frequency with 
which certain consequences of a sentence are true in a finite class 
of such consequences. The former yields the frequency interpre- 
tation of probability statements, which he favors; the latter does 
not. Without taking the requisite space to develop this second dis- 
tinction, which leads to the still insufficiently analyzed notion of 
degree of confirmation,® it is worth while to examine Professor 
Reichenbach’s discussion of the problem of induction and the the- 
ory of meaning, in order to exhibit the bearing of such a distinction 
on his conclusions. 

i) Professor Reichenbach declares that the aim of induction is 
“to find series of events whose frequency of occurrence converges 
toward a limit,” even if we have no guaranty that this can be 
attained (p. 350),® The process of induction will therefore termi- 

8. This point is briefly discussed in Frinciples of the Theory of Frobabilityy 
Jntermtioml Encyclopedia of Unified Science^ Vol. I, No. 6. 

9. This formulation seems to me very dubious indeed, unless it is intended 
as a nominal definition of “induction.” Just what is the series of events for 
which we are supposed to be searching when we look for the individual who 
committed a crime? Again, when Kepler studied Tycho Brahe’s tables on the 
positions of Mars, what series of events was he looking for? In this case, cer- 
tainly, most physicists would agree that Kepler was looking for a formula 
(or law), such that the motion of the planet could be specified by it. It is, 
however, not essential for the purposes of the present discussion to enter 
into this point at greater length. 



frob ability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 239 ] 

nate in conclusions which go beyond the known facts, although 
the regulative principle in the construction of such conclusions 
must be “the postulate of the best predictive character” (p. 376). 
The problem of induction, accordmg to Professor Reichenbach, is 
to “justify” such conclusions. We must, however, distinguish be- 
tween the “context of discovery” and the “context of justifica- 
tion.” The former involves questions of the psychology and 
sociology of scientific discovery; the latter, which is alone relevant 
to the logician of science, “does not regard the processes of think- 
ing in their actual occurrence,” and its aim is “to construct justifi- 
able sets of operations which can be intercalated between the start- 
ing point and the issue of thought processes, replacing the real 
intermediate links” (p. 5). The task of epistemology, and of a 
theory of induction in particular, is to “replace actual thinking by 
such operations as are justifiable, that is, as can be demonstrated as 
valid” (p. 7). Such a justification is provided by the Principle of 
Induction, because if we draw conclusions in accordance with it 
we shall be following “a procedure the continued application of 
which must lead to success, if success is possible at all” (p. 377). 

One example of the use of this Principle has already been dis- 
cussed; let us consider another. According to Professor Reichen- 
bach, Galileo’s law for freely falling bodies was inferred to hold 
for all cases similar to those in which confirmatory observations 
had been made; and Kepler’s law of areas was also inferred to hold 
generally from observations on the spatio-temporal positions of 
Mars. Finally, Newton’s gravitational theory, which “includes the 
observations of both Galileo and Kepler,” made it possible to argue 
for the validity of each law not simply on the basis of the ob- 
servational material for each law, but on the basis of the joint ob- 
servational material for either law. “Newton’s discovery, therefore, 
in unifying both theories, involves an increase of certainty for 
both of them; it links a more comprehensive body of observational 
material together to form one inductive group” (p. 372). 

Professor Reichenbach does not develop this point further, and 
it is not easy to see how what he says supports his claim of an 
“increase of certainty” for the two laws in question. He appar- 
ently thinks that because we have made two blind posits on i 
being the limit of relative frequency with which each law is con- 
firmed, and because each law is derivable from Newton’s theory, 



[ 240 ] Sovereign Reason 

we are in the position to appraise these posits. But why is it relevant 
that the two laws are each derivable from Newton’s theory? Why 
should we not form “one inductive group” with the observations 
for Galileo’s law and the observations for any other law^ say 
Coulomb’s, for which the same posit is made as to the relative 
frequency of confirmations^ Professor Reichenbach can not say 
that the laws of Galileo and Coulomb have “nothing in common” 
—for as he well knows any mathematician can show the contrary. 
Alternatively, suppose (what is of course not the case historically) 
that observations on falling bodies and planets had led us to a posit 
of .80 as the limit of relative frequency with which Galileo’s law 
is confirmed and a posit of .60 for Kepler’s law. Why would the 
fact that each law is derivable from Newton’s theory increase the 
certainty of these inferences? Professor Reichenbach does not ex- 
plain such matters. He simply assumes that the “justification” of 
every theory consists in assigning to it a weight, estimated by re- 
peated application of Inductive Rule. This assumption calls for 
some comments. 

a) In the first place, it does not seem at all plausible that theories, 
e.g., Galileo’s or Newton’s, which would be confirmed in say only 
80% of their applications would continue to be considered as ade- 
quate. It is of course naive to suppose that a single apparent nega- 
tive instance marks a theory as unsatisfactory; every one knows 
that a certain range of deviation of observed from expected re- 
sults is invariably taken into account when testing a theory. There 
is no such thing as an indubitably final refutation of a theory in 
the history of science on the basis of isolated negative instances. 
But having said this, would any physicist retain a theory if a 
single well-constructed negative instance for it were found— to 
say nothing of there being an infinity of such exceptions, such a 
possibility being still compatible with the weight of the theory 
being /? A single negative instance of the kind considered would 
be a challenge to alter the theory, to construct and test alternative 
theories, and not to conduct further experiments for the sake of 
determining what is the limit of the relative frequency of in- 
stances confirming the theory in question. On Professor Reichen- 
bach s view every observed value which departs from an expected 
value, as calculated from a theory, counts as one instance, irre- 
spective of whether it falls inside or outside the range of permitted 



Probability avd the Theory of Knowledge [ 241 ] 

deviations. How can he explain the fact that a single deviation 
falling outside such a range counts for more, in the judgment of 
workers in the field, than any number of deviations falling inside 
the range— especially since the value of the limit of the ratio of 
confirming instances can not be affected by a finite number of 
disconfirming ones^ 

b) In citing the power of Newton’s theory to unify and thereby 
strengthen the evidence for the laws of Kepler and Galileo, Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach has made an important observation. But he 
does not seem to have interpreted his own illustration adequately, 
and he has not succeeded in showing how the example supports 
his theory of induction. It seems to me essential to stress the fact 
that each of these laws is derivable from the Newtonian theory, 
given suitable initial conditions, so that as a consequence the 
(necessarily finite) confirmatory evidence for these laws taken singly 
also confirms the Newtonian theory. On the other hand, we judge 
the acceptability of the latter in terms of such factors as the num- 
ber and variety of the confirmatory instances— in brief, in terms of 
the “degree” to which the theory has been put to the test. It fol- 
lows that an observation directly confirming Kepler’s law, will 
also confirm Newton’s theory, and will therefore confirm Gali- 
leo’s law, since an instance confirming a theory also confirms what 
is derivable from that theory. This account seems to me straight- 
forward though unduly simplified, it involves no tour de force 
such as Professor Reichenbach performs, and expresses what seems 
to be the procedure of physics, but its cogency depends on not 
mistaking “probability” as a relative frequency for “probability’^ 
as degree of confirmation (i.e., as an indication of the thorough- 
ness with which a proposition has been tested.)^® 


10. These matters are explained at somewhat fuller length in the work cited 
in Note 8. Professor Reichenbach distinguishes between two ways of assign- 
ing a probability coefficient to a theory, one of which involves viewing a 
theory as a logical product (p. 396) From the point of view of the proposed 
distinction between probability and degree of confirmation, his comphcated 
and certainly dubious construction is altogether unnecessary. 

[In the second edition of his Wahrscheinhchkettslehre which has since 
appeared in English {The Theory of Frobabihty, Berkeley and Los Angeles; 
University of California Press, 1949), Professor Reichenbach distinguishes, as 
he did in earlier publications, between a first-level and a second-level proba- 
bility of a general law. The first-level probability is the limit of the relative 
frequency with which the singular consequences of the law (in some cases 



[ 242 ] Sovereign Reason 

c) Professor Reichenbach declares that if we wish to “con- 
struct an objective meaning of a term ... we must ask which 

meaning we are to ascribe to the term, if the usual usage of the 

term is to be justifiable,^^ He illustrates his point by explaining the 
meaning of “length of a line” as the ratio of one line to a unit line; 

such a meardng “if underlaid to the use of the term in the mouth 

of most people, makes their statements justifiable.” Similarly, he 
claims that if his interpretation is given to all probability state- 

these singular consequences may all be taken to refer to some one object) are 
verified. He now considers the objection that on his view a law (e,g., that 
ail human beings have hearts) might be assigned a degree of probability close 
to one, even though there are a large number of disconfirming instances for 
it—in opposmon to what appears standard procedure which would simply 
reject the law in such a contingency. He grants the fact that in some cases a 
smgle exception to a law would be taken as a “noticeable diminution” of its 
degree of probability. But he explains this by maintaining that a universal 
statement is simply a “schematization,” involving the substitution for what is 
actually a “probabihty-implication” of degree close to one of the more simple 
and manageable “all-statement.” Accordingly, “one exception proves that the 
strict all-statement is false, and we dishke using an all-statement as a sche- 
mattzation if it is known diat the all-statement is false. If a statement is used 
as a schematization, it should at least be compatible with the existing ob- 
servational evidence to assume that the schematization is verbally true” (p. 
436). But I fail to see that this comment meets the point m any manner, it 
does not explain why even if no “schematization” is employed and a proba- 
bility-implication of high degree is asserted, a single exception or even many 
exceptions should be a ground for rejectmg it. 

[Professor Reichenbach’s discussion of the second-level probability of gen- 
eral statements seems to me no more convincmg than his account of first- 
level ones. By the second-level probability of a law he understands the limit 
of the relative frequency with which the first-level relative frequencies hold 
for a series of objects. For example, “In order to define the probabihty of 
the second level and thus the probability of Newton’s law [of gravitation] 
in general, not restricted to one test object, we must construct a reference 
class by fillmg out the other rows [of the theoretically doubly-infinite lat- 
tice] with observations pertaimng to other physical laws. For instance, for 
the second row we can use the law of the conservation of energy, for the 
third, the law of entropy; and so on. The reference class employed corresponds 
to the way in which a scientific theory is actually judged, since confidence in 
an individual law of physics is undoubtedly increased by the fact that other 
laws, too, have proved to be rehable. Conversely, negative experiences with 
some physical laws are regarded as a reason for restricting the validity of 
other laws that so far have not been invalidated” (pp. 439-440). However, 
unless I completely misunderstand this account, accordmg to it every physical 
law should receive the same degree of second-level probability; and if this 
conclusion is warranted, it constitutes in my judgment a reductio ad abmrdum 
of the proposed interpretation of the probabihty of general statements. 

[Professor Reichenbach does not regard as relevant criticisms which allege 
that his analyses do not render the intended meamngs of statements ascnbing 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 243] 

merits “all our attitude in respect to scientific theories can be 
justified.”^^ This is a puzzling rule for determining the meaning 
of terms. I had imagined that in attempting to discover what the 
terms “curvature of space” means in physics, Professor Reichen- 
bach was not aiming at “justifying” the physicist’s use of it, but 
at discovering how he does use it. This usage fixes the meaning (or 
meanings), and it is not easy to see what it would be like to 
“justify” that usage. Unquestionably, many physicists ascribe a 
meaning to the term which it does not have; but that it does not 
have it is discovered by examining how it is used. Assuming such 
a procedure as basic for discovering the meanings of terms, I can 
not persuade myself that Professor Reichenbach’s interpretation 
of “the probability of a theory” formulates what physicists do 
with it or even think about it for the most part.^^ Indeed, he him- 
self admits that the probability of theories, in one of the senses he 
specifies (i.e., probabilities of the second level), is not yet amenable 
to quantitative determination, because a sufficient body of statistics 
is not in existence.^^ 

Let us, however, consider Professor Reichenbach’s one illustra- 
tion in which a theory is allegedly assigned a numerical weight, 


a degree of probability to a law; for he declares that he does not pretend to 
make explicit the meanings actually associated with such locutions, but rather 
to state what meanings ought to be associated with them if our words are to 
be compatible with our actions (e.g., p. 382), But although he feels entitled 
in consequence to dismiss as illicit all non-frequency uses of the word 
“probability” which assign a degree of probability to a statement relative to 
the available evidence for it, he himself employs a not too dissimilar notion 
under the label of the “ground-for-assertion relation” in his discussion of the 
Rule of Induction— even if he denies this relation to fall within the province 
of the theory of probability and declares it to be “inaccessible to quantitative 
measure” (p. 460). What this relation is called is of no consequence, and 
whether it can be metricized (as a number of current writers believe) is 
perhaps doubtful. But no account of non-demonstrative inference can be 
regarded as adequate which fails to assign a central importance to it, and 
it surely merits a fuller discussion than Professor Reichenbach is willing to 
devote to it,] 


11. Philosophy of Science^ Vol. 5, p. 33. 

12. Professor Reichenbach suggests that those who do not accept his inter- 
pretation should ask physicists not what they mean by the phrase but what 
they do when they use it {Philosophy of Science^ Vol. 5 , p. 35 ). Has anyone 
really done so on a sufficiently extensive scaled It would certainly be interest- 
ing and highly instructive to examine the staustics of the replies obtained, 

13. Philosophy of Science^ Vol. 5, p. 41; also p, 399 of the book under dis- 
cussion. 



[ 244 3 Sovereign Reason 

in his sense of the term. He translates the statement “The velocity 
of light is 299796 km/sec. with an average error of ±4, or of 
0.00 1 5 per cent” as “The probability that the velocity of light 
lies between 299792 km/sec. and 299800 km/sec. is 2/3,” and cor- 
rectly interprets the latter in terms of relative frequencies. He 
then says that from this we can infer “a lower limit for the prob- 
ability (on the first level) of Einstein’s hypothesis of the constancy 
of the velocity of light.” His conclusion is that “the probability 
of Einstein’s hypothesis is greater than 99.99 per cent, if a numeri- 
cal range of 0.0052 per cent is admitted for the possible value of 
the constant” (p. 398). This is certainly most impressive. But how 
are these numerical values obtained? I shall overlook “the transi- 
tion from the special value of the constant to the postulate of 
constancy in general”^^ which Professor Reichenbach makes, since 
it raises a question much too technical to discuss here. As for the 
rest, these numbers are calculated with the help of the mathemati- 
cal calculus of probability— applied upon sets of numerical meas- 
ures obtained under specified conditions of experiment^ when 
suitable assumptions are made about the distribution of the meas- 
ures. Professor Reichenbach’s figures thus declare that if prescribed 
types of measurements are carried out, the magnitudes so obtained 
will lie within a fixed interval around a certain number with a speci- 
fied relative frequency. But a study of the procedure by which 
these figures are obtained reveals nothing relevant for determining 
the probability of Einstein’s hypothesis. It may be that Professor 
Reichenbach intends his “interpretation” as a proposal to the 
physicist to institute certain practices in evaluating theories; it is 
most clearly not an account of what the physicist does do. 

d) One final point. It is not easy to ascertain what precisely 
Professor Reichenbach does mean by “justification,” or what ex- 
actly is the force of “valid” in the passage cited toward the begin- 
ning of this section. He says that the construction of the Justifying 
operations is not to be arbitrary, that “it is bound to actual think- 
ing by the postulate of correspondence” (p. 6); and he also says 
that the construction of theories must be in accordance with the 
postulate of “the best predictive character,” Now a demand for 
“justification” is readily understood, if it means that evidence for 


14. Ibid, p. 40. 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 245 ] 

the theory must be found; such a justification can be given, but 
only in terms of the consequences or confirmatory instances of a 
theory and the relative completeness with which a theory has been 
tested. However, this is not what Professor Reichenbach seems to 
have in mind, at least it is not the only thing. Thus, he declares 
that 

“it cannot be denied that there is likewise an inductive relation which 
supports the theory before the consequences are tested. The situation of 
the theory in respect to facts before the experimental test is not differ- 
ent, in principle, from that after the experimental test. In both cases 
there are facts which do not verify the theory, but which confer a 
determinate probability on it; this probability may be small before the 
test, and great after it. But even before the test there must be facts on 
which the theory is based; and there must be, also before the test, a 
set of inductive relations leading from the facts to the theory— else the 
theory could not be seriously maintained. The set of relations before the 
test may be of a very complicated kind, whereas the relations from the 
observational material of the test to the theory may be of a rather simple 
kind; but in both cases they must be of the inductive type if the adoption 
of the theory is to be justifiable.”^® 

This and similar passages are a puzzle, and it is not altogether 
clear whether Professor Reichenbach is abiding consistently by 
his distinction between the context of discovery and that of justi- 
fication. It is fairly clear, however, that according to him the facts 
upon which a theory is “based,” prior to its being tested experi- 
mentally, imply the theory with some degree of probability. In- 
deed, what distinguishes a great man of science from lesser people 
is that apparently “he sees the inductive relations” while they do 
not. But just how are these probability implications to be speci- 
fied in terms of relative frequencies^ Is not Professor Reichenbach 
flying in the face of our best attested experience as to the historical 
genesis of theories? Is it at all plausible to believe that “the facts” 
antecedently to the theory being tested can do more than suggest 
the theory but without determining its specific form? And inci- 
dentally, if the alleged probability implication between the facts 
and theory is a relation involving limits of relative frequencies, 
how can the probability of a theory be radically altered, as Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach admits it may, by the addition of a finite 
number of confirming instances? On the other hand, many of his 


15. Ibidi pt 37; also p. 382 of the book. 



[ 246 ] Sovereign Reason 

remarks about the probability of theories become statements of 
accredited methodological principles, if we interpret them to be 
about degrees of confirmation. Thus, to “justify” a theory will 
mean that an appropriate degree of confirmation is to be found, 
by marshalling a certain finite quantity of evidence to support it; 
to say that a theory has a “probability” before it is experimentally 
tested will mean that the “known facts” confirm the theory to 
some degree, because the propositions asserting them are connected 
with the theory by a chain of derivations; to maintain that the 
“probability of a theory” may be made greater by an experimental 
test will mean, for example, that an expenment, carried on in 
subject-matter qualitatively different from that in which support 
has already been found for the theory, will increase the degree of 
confirmation. Should not Professor Reichenbach therefore give 
some thought to the notion of degree of confirmation? Will he 
not contribute his great talents in order to clarify it more fully? 

2) The consideration of Professor Reichenbach’s discussion of 
meaning must be brief. The theory of meaning is central to em- 
pirically oriented philosophies which take their cue from the 
procedures of the natural sciences; and at least since Peirce, they 
have been occupied with setting up criteria for distinguishing 
meaningful statements from those which are not. It is one of the 
merits of Professor Reichenbach’s discussion that he recognizes 
that the setting up of such criteria is primarily a matter of making 
decisions^ involving questions not of truth and falsity in the first 
instance, but questions of the practical consequences which fol- 
low from making them. 

Accepting by and large the standpoint of those who believe 
there is some connection between the meaning and the verifiabil- 
ity of propositions. Professor Reichenbach first considers what he 
calls “the truth-theory” of meaning. According to this view a 
proposition is meaningful if and only if it is completely verifiable 
as true or false. He points out that such a criterion is very incon- 
venient, because it is not physically possible to determine the 
truth-values of most statements with finality; hence such a deci- 
sion would require us to dismiss as meaningless most of the state- 
ments of science. He accordingly proposes a different criterion, 
which yields “the probability conception of meaning” and is for- 
mulated in terms of the weight of propositions instead of their 



Probability and the Theory of Knonvledge [ 247 ] 

usual truth-values. On this criterion a proposition has meaning if 
and only if it is physically possible to determine for it a weight; 
and two propositions have the same meaning if and only if they 
obtain the same weight by every possible observation (p. 54). 

Is this a suitable criterion? The preceding discussion has shown 
that the weight of a proposition can be determined with no greater 
success than its truth-value. It follows that Professor Reichenbach’s 
probability conception of meaning involves the same undesirable 
consequences as does the truth-theory of meaning. Consequently, 
if w:e do not wish to classify as meaningless the statements em- 
ployed in the sciences, the first part of his criterion must be judged 
as inappropriate. 

Waiving this point, however, we may next ask whether the 
second part of the criterion concerning the sameness of meaning 
is adequate for the purposes Professor Reichenbach has in mind. 
Now suppose that we are about to toss a normal die and that we 
pronounce the following two statements: “This die will fall with 
the one-spot uppermost on the next toss,” and “This die will fall 
with the five-spot uppermost on the next toss.” Everyone would 
agree that these statements predict different things, and that no 
criterion of meaning can be regarded as satisfactory which fails 
to distinguish between them. But according to the way Professor 
Reichenbach assigns weights to such propositions, each of them 
has the weight 1/6, because each is a member of a propositional- 
sequence in which by hypothesis 1/6 is the limit of the relative 
frequency with which propositions having a specified form are 
“true.” All possible observations will ascribe the same weight to 
them, and they should therefore have the same meaning. The pro- 
posed criterion for sameness of meaning thus seems to be inade- 
quate. 

On the other hand, at least a part of Professor Reichenbach’s 
criterion could be saved, if in his formulation “weight” were 
interpreted as the degree of confirmation for a proposition. For 
what is required of statements in the sciences is that from them, 
with the help of the techniques of logic and in conjunction with 
other propositions stating suitable initial conditions, other state- 
ments be derivable,— so that at least some of these derived prop- 
ositions can be controlled by further observations. In brief, what 
is required is that statements be confimtable, either positively or 



[ 248 ] Sovereign Reason 

negatively, by appropriate observations. Accordingly, a suitable 
criterion of meaning would seem to be that a proposition be con- 
firmable, or alternatively that it be physically possible to assign a 
degree of confirmation for the proposition in question. However, 
it is not clear how a criterion for sameness of meaning is to be 
formulated in terms of “degrees of confirmation,” even if we 
assume that such “degreees” are always comparable. What we 
should want to say is that two propositions have the same mean- 
ing if all propositions derivable from them which can be directly 
controlled by observation, receive the same confirmation— i.e., such 
derived propositions are either all positively confirmed or all nega- 
tively confirmed. But these speculations are obviously hints for 
further discussion, and are introduced only for the sake of sug- 
gesting that the notion of weight of evidence or degree of con- 
firmation seems to be a fruitful though vague idea, well worth 
considering as a promising alternative to Professor Reichenbach’s 
conception of weight. 


4. 

I now turn to Professor Reichenbach’s analyses of issues with a 
distinctively traditional epistemological flavor. In so far as his 
subsequent discussion depends on his theory of probability, the 
epistemology he offers falls under the judgment already made upon 
that theory. It is worth while, however, to consider his epistemo- 
logical reconstruction of the world on its own merits, even if it 
should raise old issues of probability theory in a new dress. 

i) Professor Reichenbach is not one of those thinkers who dis- 
miss the problem of the external world as meaningless, and not 
only does he take much pains to defend it as genuine, but he offers 
a definite resolution of it. What is the problem, according to him? 
The problem is generated, as always, by the search for direct 
propositions having absolute certainty. Propositions about “im- 
mediately observable facts” (i.e., such “concreta” as chairs and 
tables) turn out to be not completely verifiable, because they 
involve a predictive element and so are indirect and not absolutely 
certain. But, so the argument runs, in order to confirm, at least in 
part, such indirect propositions we must finally reach propositions 
which are direct. The view Professor Reichenbach first considers 
takes these direct propositions to be about tTnpressions, Impres- 



Probability and the Theory of Knoioledge [ 249 ] 

sions (a term which Professor Reichenbach takes to be synony- 
mous with “presentations,” “sensations,” and “sense-data”) are 
descnbed as “phenomena occurring within my mind but produced 
by physical things outside my mind” (p. 89), impressions are 
“events of my personal sphere” as distinct from “the external 
world,” they do not have “an independent existence,” and in ob- 
serving them “I observe only the impressions produced by” ex- 
ternal things on my private world. Since by hypothesis impression 
statements alone are absolutely certain, the problem to be dis- 
cussed is “How do we know that there is such an external world 
outside our private world'” (p. 90). Professor Reichenbach sub- 
sequently rejects this hypothesis as to the indubitability of im- 
pression statements. He grants it meanwhile for the sake of the 
argument, maintains that the problem is a serious one, and claims 
to be able to solve it with the help of his theory of probability. I 
shall first expound his alleged solution, then argue that it falls 
short of being one, and finally claim that the “problem” itself is 
not intelligible. 

a) Professor Reichenbach’s discussion of the problem is carried 
on largely in terms of the following analogy. Imagine a cubical 
world with translucent but not transparent sides, and that its 
inhabitants note changing shadows upon the walls and ceiling- 
shadows which ive know are those of birds flying outside the cube 
but which are not observable to those in the interior. These 
shadows stand in the same relation to the external birds as do 
the private impression to the physical things producing them 
(p. 1 15), and the problem to be considered is whether the inhabi- 
tants could ever discover that there are things outside their cube. 
Professor Reichenbach next supposes that some interior Copernicus 
finally establishes correspondences between shadows on the walls 
and ceiling, and that he explains these relations by the theory that 
the moving shapes are shadows of birds existing outside the cube. 
He also supposes that certain positivistic philosophers reject this 
hypothesis, declaring it to be a psuedo-statement because the birds 
are not accessible to observation, and maintaining therefore that 
the meaning of every statement about the birds is the same as the 
meaning of sets of statements about the observable shadows. Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach finally adjudicates between the disputants. 
He declares that if the probability-conception of meaning is ac- 



[ 2 50 ] Sovereign Reason 

cepted, Copernicus is in the right: for his theory has a “surplus 
meaning,” and the weight of the bird-hypothesis is higher than 
the weight of the mere-shadow-hypothesis. He admits “that the 
observable facts do not furnish a difference as to the absolute 
truth or absolute falsehood of the two theories in question; but 
the weight conferred on them by the facts observable within the 
cube is different” (p. 121); and he also declares that “what is 
remarkable here is that the two theories obtain, from the facts 
observed within the cube, different weights, although both theo- 
ries furnish for future facts within the cube the same weights . . 

(p. 124). Finally, he insists that 

“Our situation with regard to external things is not essenually differ- 
ent from that of the inhabitants of the cubical world with respect to the 
birds outside: imagine the surface surrounding that world to contract 
until it surrounds only our own body, until it finally and with some 
geometrical deformation, becomes identical with the surface of our 
body,*— we arrive then at the actual conditions for the construction of 
human knowledge, all our information about the world being bound 
to the traces which causal processes project from the external diings to 
the surface of our body” (p. 154). 

Accordingly, the problem of the external world is solved in the 
same manner and with the same conclusion as is the predicament 
of the cube-inhabitants: the external world has an existence of its 
own, independent of our impressions (p. 129 ff.), 

b) Professor Reichenbach^s solution hangs upon the validity of 
his claim that the bird-hypothesis has a higher weight than the 
mere-shadow theory. Unfortunately, he does not explain how this 
higher weight can be established, and the only clue he offers is a 
reference to Bayes Theorem in the calculus of probability. He 
declares that the “backward probabilities” from the observed 
facts to the two theories are different, even though the “forward 
probabilities” from each theory to the facts are the same, be- 
cause of the difference in the initial probabilities of the two 
theories (p. 124). The argument thus depends on the possibihty 
of assigning probabilities to theories^ in his sense of the phrase; 
and reasons have already been advanced why this is not feasible. 
Waiving this point, however, let us ask how these initial probabili- 
ties are to be determined. Now Professor Reichenbach is unques- 
tionably a frequentist in his interpretation of “probability,” and 
these initial probabilities must therefore be estimated by counting 



probability and the Theory of Kno'wledge [ 251 ] 

frequencies in material accessible to those within the cube. But 
what sort of frequencies observable within the cube would be 
relevant to determine the weight of a theory about things not 
accessible? Professor Reichenbach does not explain this, and lack- 
ing such an explanation we might rest our case as to his not having 
solved the problem until he does so. Let us imagine, however, what 
his explanation might be, though we have no assurance that we 
read his intent correctly. He might suggest, to put it quite crudely, 
that the inhabitants would count how frequently moving figures 
on a screen are shadows of objects behind or before a screen, that 
the relative frequency with which this is the case is high, and that 
therefore by an obvious argument from analogy the bird-hypoth- 
esis would have a high weight. But on reflection it becomes appar- 
ent that the extrapolation from observed frequencies within the 
cube to events inaccessibly outside the cube, assumes the very 
point at issue: the existence of an outside to the cube could not 
be in question if the argument is to mean anything. For what else 
is involved in the supposition that the inhabitants observe shadows 
on the walls of their world.^ What would it mean to say that they 
are hemmed in by “a wall,” if the wall did not have an outside 
as well as an inside^ Having assumed so much of a world outside 
their cube, just what is the problem of the external world to the 
inhabitants? But without such an assumption, how can the cube- 
Copernicus, or Professor Reichenbach, even formulate the prob- 
lem^ Imagine some terrestrial “physicist” who propounds a theory 
according to which the familiar objects of common-experience 
such as tables and chairs, are simply “projections” into our three- 
dimensional space from things existing “outside” in an inaccessible 
four-dimensional one. What would Professor Reichenbach’s reply 
be to such a hypothetical physicist who repeated every one of his 
own arguments for the existence of an external world to establish 
the existence of such an “external” fourth-dimension^ Would he 
not say that such a “theory” can be intelligibly formulated only 
if “being external to our space” were given a sense which makes 
that outside accessible? 

Professor Reichenbach’s argument does not become easier to 
understand if we apply it to the problem of inferring an external 
world from the “personal sphere” of impressions. For just how 
is one to construe the inevitable task of estimating the initial 



[ 252 ] Sovereign Reason 

probability of the hypothesis of an external world by counting 
frequencies within the surface of the human body? I am forced 
to conclude, until such time as Professor Reichenbach explains 
such matters, that he has not solved the problem he set himself. 
Moreover, I wish to indicate briefly that he does not even have a 
problem to solve. Impressions are explained to be observable 
events ^‘of my personal sphere”; and Professor Reichenbach even 
says that knocking a man’s head against a wall is not a good 
way of persuading him of the reality of the wall, because what 
the man saw was “outside his body” whereas the pain felt was 
“inside,” so that his problem as to whether there is something 
“outside of himself” is not thereby answered (p. 92). He does not 
even hesitate to talk of impressions “being produced” by external 
things on the “surface of our body.” I have not been able to 
locate any account by him of impressions which does not employ 
such terms. But if this language is taken seriously, the formulation 
of the problem of the external world involves the assumption of 
the existence of such a world. For how otherwise can a distinction 
be defined and maintained between inside and outside, mine and 
not mine, on the surface and beneath or above the surface, pro- 
duced and simply appearing, observed and not observed^ An im- 
pression cannot be identified as “private” except in the context of 
things which are not private; and a datum of experience cannot 
be judged as directly observed except in reference to an organism 
which is not such a datum, and whose introduction therefore as- 
sumes the external world the existence of which was allegedly put 
in question. Without the use of such distinction, however, how 
can the problem be formulated?^^ 

16. Recently Professor E. J. Nelson has formulated the problem in somewhat 
different language. “By an external world I mean any particular or system of 
particulars, of whatever nature . . . which is not immediately experiencibie. 
. . . The problem before us then is this: Is it possible to construct a valid 
inductive argument which concludes from phenomenal evidence or data of 
experience to the existence of an external world.” Philosophy of Science, VoL 
5, p. 238, He does not say in what sense of “ible” the external world is not 
to be immediately experiencibie, and his quesuon as it stands is therefore not 
sufficiently explicit. But in any case, what is to be understood by “hnmedi- 
ateiy”> Does it connote a definite interval of time? If not, how does one go 
about determining whether anything is immediately experiencibie? If so, must 
not the determination of whether something is immediately experiencibie or 
experienced involve other times with respect to which the irrtmediate is de- 
fined? And how does Professor Nelson determine whether something is phe- 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge 1^53 ] 

2) Professor Reichenbach’s discussion of the problem of the 
external world is a tour de force^ almost by his own confession^ 
and serves merely to exhibit the power of his theory of probability. 
For the discussion was generated by the assumption that impres- 
sion propositions are absolutely certain. But Professor Reichen- 
bach denies that they have this indubitable character, and con- 
siders in detail their more dubious epistemic status. We must exam- 
ine what he says about them, for his account is by no means clear. 

a) His denial that impression propositions are absolutely certain 
is predicated upon his denial that “impressions have the character 
of observeable facts.” He declares that although he has observed 
such concreta as tables and houses, he has never seen his “impres- 
sions of these things”, and to elucidate this point he adds that “I 
hear tones . . . but I do not hear my hearing of them ... I feel 
heat and cold . . . but I do not feel my feeling them” (p. 164). His 
conclusion is that the existence of impressions is inferred, so that 
impression propositions are indirect. 

Before expounding his analysis of the chains of inferences in- 
volved, we must pause to overcome our surprise at these pro- 
nouncements. Professor Reichenbach discussed the problem of 
the external world on the assumption that impressions are observed, 
for without it the nature of that problem grows even more mys- 
terious. Indeed, the shadows on the walls of the cubical world, 
which was oifered as a precise large-scale model of the epistemo- 
logical predicament, must certainly be observed if there is to be 
any point to that discussion. His denial just cited therefore indi- 
cates some obscurity in his use of the word “impression.” On the 
one hand, he equates it to such terms as “sense-data” and “repre- 
sentations” (p. 165), and because of the use he makes of it in 
discussing the problem of the external world it is natural to sup- 
pose that it refers to what is seen, heard, or felt So used it is a 

nomenal except in terms of the mechanism of the human body and therefore 
in terms of something which does not function m that determinaaon as a 
datum of experience^ What then is the problem of the external world, if in 
order to state it that world seems to be implicitly assumed^ 

17. In discussing the problem of the knowledge of other minds, Professor 
Reichenbach says* “Other people tell us that they also see the red and feel 
the heat and taste the sweet; but we never can compare these sensations with 
ours, and so we do not know whether they are the same”; and again, “It is 
m a certain sense true that impressions of different persons cannot be directly 




[ 254 ] Sovereign Reason 

bit strange to say that impressions are inferred^ because while 
empirical evidence supports the claim that colors, sounds, pains, 
etc., are not psychological primitives, they are nonetheless not 
inferred but are selected and isolated in analyses undertaken for 
definite ends. On the other hand, in the present context Professor 
Reichenbach is using the term “impressions” to refer, not to what 
is observed, but to the act or internal process of observing. Indeed, 
he says “An optical sensation is not observed by a man who sees 
things outside his body; it is inferred. The man sees a thing before 
him and has a sensation. ... He does not know anything about 
its qualities, except that it has a certain correspondence to the 
immediate thing he observes. It is an unknown” (p. 237; cf. also 
pp. 167, 172). But if this interpretation is consistently given to the 
term, just what is the meaning of the “problem” of the external 
world and Professor Reichenbach’s “solution” of it? And just 
what is the point of his long argument that impressions, in the 
second sense indicated, are not observed, and that propositions 
about them are not indubitable— since impressions in this sense 
are on par with any objects or processes discussed in physics? 

b) Let us, however, resume the exposition. If impressions are 
not “given,” what is given? According to Professor Reichenbach 
what is given are things or states of things (including certain 
states of our own bodies); and propositions about them are observa- 
tion statements with the maximum of directness. From these 
observation statements we then infer the indirect propositions of 
physics on the one hand (these are about such things as atoms, 
electric currents, and the like), and the indirect impression state- 
ments on the other (p. 169). The indirect propositions of physics 
have a weight inferior to the observation statements, because the 
former have a “surplus meaning” when compared with the latter. 
But the impression statements, although indirect, have a weight 
superior to the observation statements, because the former have 
“less meaning” than the latter (p. 170). Nevertheless, the weights 
of impression statements are also less than one. 

compared. Imagine a man who sees green when I see red, and red when I see 
green— would we ever know this? A mind untrained in philosophy might per- 
haps object that the man in question would be in permanent conflict with the 
trstffic regulations when driving a motorcar, that he would cross the street at 
the red light and stop on the green light— but of course this is thoroughly 
false” (p, 248, italics not in the text) . Here the sense of the passage requires 
that the italicized words refer to ‘wbat is observed. 




Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 255 ] 

These conclusions about impression statements are certainly 
curious, and Professor Reichenbach’s argument for them are no 
less so. He first claims that impressions must be "'described” in 
terms of physical objects, and that the descriptions take the form 
of disjunctive propositions. However, in order to obviate the need 
for enumerating the terms of such disjunctions he introduces the 
concept of i?mnediate similarity. Thus, the table I observe at one 
time may be similar to the table I observe five minutes later “as 
far as it concerns only what I see just now,” irrespective of whether 
there is a physical identity between the “two tables” (p. 170). 
Consequently, an “impression of a flash of lightning” can be de- 
scribed by the statement “I had an impression produced by the 
beam of a light house, or by another physical object which stands 
in the relation of similarity to such a searchlight.” More generally, 
Professor Reichenbach constructs certain statements he calls basic. 
One kind, called the longer similarity disjunction^ has the form: 
“There is the thing a^ or a thing similar to a, or there is no ob- 
served physical thing, but only an impression as it would have 
been produced by the thing it may be expressed in the self- 
explanatory notation: a or S {a) or T{a). A second kind of basic 
statement, called the impressiojz form, differs from the preceding 
in that an “impression term” also occurs in the first two members 
of the disjunction; it may be expressed in the notation: [a and 
r(a)] or [S'(^) and r(a)] or F(^)- Omitting some inessentials, 
Professor Reichenbach’s argument is as follows: The weight of 
the longer similarity disjunction is greater than the weight of its 
first member, by a theorem in the calculus of probability. Sec- 
ondly, the weight of the impression form is smaller than the 
weight of the longer similarity disjunction, again by the calculus; 
nevertheless, “we may conceive it as highly probable that there 
is always within myself an internal process when I see a thing, 
and so the weight of the impression disjunction is not much less 
than the weight of the longer similarity disjunction” (p. 174). 
Next, by a theorem of formal logic the impression form is equi- 
pollent with its own last member. Consequently, the weight of 
“f (^)” is greater than the weight of that is, the weight of 
the observation statement “There is the thing is smaller than the 
weight of the impression statement “I have an impression of the 
type produced by aP However, basic statements require a com- 



[ 256 ] Sovereign Reason 

parison between a present object and a formerly observed one, 
so that they involve the reliability of memory which is fallible; 
it therefore follows that impression statements are not absolutely 
certain (p. 176). 

It is difficult to suppose that in this discussion of impression 
statements Professor Reichenbach is not shuttling back and forth 
between the two senses of ‘‘impressions” indicated above. Can 
we readily imagine any one asserting “I have the impression of 
a flash of lightning” if he did not mtend to refer to what he 
sees but to indicate the occurrence of a physiological process under 
his skin? On the other hand, how can we understand the reason 
for this complicated argument unless Professor Reichenbach in- 
tends such a statement to be about something not observed but 
inferred? But however that may be, his argument depends on 
some theorems in the calculus of probability, in particular the 
theorem that the probability of two alternatives is in general 
greater than the probability of either alternative. Now it is evi- 
dent that such comparisons can be instituted only if it is assumed 
that the magnitudes to be compared exist. Professor Reichenbach 
assumes that weights can be assigned to his longer similarity dis- 
junctions and therefore to impression statements. But how is one 
to go about estimating the weight for such a statement as “There 
is only an impression as it would have been produced by a flash 
of lightning” (p. 178), where by “impression” is understood either 
an inner process or something seen? What is the propositional- 
sequence in which such a statement is an element, and how are 
the relative frequencies within it to be determined? Professor 
Reichenbach offers no help to his puzzled readers, and produces 
not one shred of empirical evidence for his contention. Does he 
really find it plausible that the weight of an observation statement 
about the coincidence of a pointer and a scale-reading is less than 
the weight of a proposition about some inner process alleged to 
accompany such observations? These inner processes are presum- 
ably physiological (cf. p. 180), and must therefore be investi- 
gated in a way continuous with the way we study the behavior 
of men in China or the structure of binary stars. Is it all reasonable 
to assign a privileged epistemic position to propositions about such 
inner processes? In many inquiries it is usual to isolate certain 
events such as pointer coincidences, and make them the basis for 
further inferences because of the reliability of our judgments 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 257 1 

about them; but on Professor Reichenbach’s account, such a stand- 
ard procedure of the sciences is quite inexplicable. Again, why 
does it follow from the fact that memory is in general not in- 
fallible, that some particular basic statement has a weight diJffer- 
ent from Professor Reichenbach does not say, and an enormous 
gap yawns at this point in his argument. His discussion of impres- 
sion statements, like his handling of the problem of the external 
world, thus seems to be primarily an exercise in the calculus of 
probability, and sheds little light on the concrete procedures of 
inquiry. 

5 - 

One final portion of Professor Reichenbach’s epistemology re- 
mains to be considered. The preceding discussions, according to 
him, have established the following points: that no empirical state- 
ments are absolutely verifiable, that to each of them a weight can 
be attached which is in general less than and that the observation 
statements upon which we base all our knowledge are about con-- 
cretUy i.e., “the concrete things of daily life” (p. 195). The re- 
maining constructive task which he sets himself is to exhibit the 
structure of the inferences from such a basis to the various com- 
plex objects of physics and physiology. We shall follow him only 
over part of his argument, but over a sufficient portion to come to 
the heart of his epistemology. 

a) Although Professor Reichenbach asserts that the basic observa- 
tion statements are about the concrete things of daily experience, he 
rapidly disconcerts his readers by first offering a “logical construc- 
tion” for such objects in terms of material allegedly more primitive 
psychologically. He begins the discussion by distinguishing between 
different “kinds of existence.”^® Thus, when at dusk a bush is 
mistaken for a man, what we see at the moment we see it has 
immediate existence; and when we subsequently discover that it 
is no man but a bush, what we then see also has immediate exist- 
ence. On the other hand, what is seen in the first instance (i,e., 
the man) has subjective existence only, while what is seen in the 
second instance (i.e., the bush) has objective existence. 

However, the determination as to whether what is observed has 
subjective or objective existence is not a matter for immediate 

iS. Professor Reichenbach explains that he will use the term “existence” as 
in modern logic in connection with descnpitoTis, not things or mdividuals, 
but as will be evident he does not abide by this rule consistently. 



[ 258 ] Sovereign Reason 

intuition, because objective existence is “a determinate logical 
function of subjective existence” (p. 203). How is this distinction 
estabhshed^ According to Professor Reichenbach, the world of 
immediately existing things is the world of concrete objects around 
us, “entering into our knowledge without any intellectual opera- 
tions being performed by us.” In this immediate world, said to be 
historically and psychologically “original” or primitive, there is 
no difference between waking and dreaming, and “everything 
exists exactly in the form in which it is observed”; indeed, when- 
ever doubts concerning the physical world occur “we go back to 
the immediately existing objects, to the concreta, as the most reli- 
able facts” (p. 204). On the other hand, we draw inferences from 
(propositions about) immediately existing things to other such 
things, having the form “If so-and-so, then such-and-such,” some 
of which are successful while others are not. Accordingly, things 
immediately existing which do not have the consequences they 
“normally” have are classified as merely subjective existents— where 
normality is specified statistically in terms of a high ratio of suc- 
cessful predictions made on the basis of a certain class of immedi- 
ate things (i.e., those which are then characterized as having ob- 
jective existence) (p. 207). Since the property of being an ob- 
jective existent is thus specified statistically, we can never be 
absolutely certain that something immediately existing is objective. 
Nevertheless, the weight of propositions about the concrete things 
of daily life is quite high as a matter of fact, most of the concreta 
of daily life are “for us, real beyond every doubt, because they 
have stood up to every test ever applied” (p. 210). 

The point of these remarks therefore seems to be that proposi- 
tions about common-sense objects like chairs and tables, to which 
objective existence is generally attributed, are themselves “logical 
constructions” out of propositions about immediate existing things. 
Such “objects” cannot be judged to be objective existents simply 
from the fact that something exists immediately. In other words, 
Professor Reichenbach seems to be subscribing to the sound thesis 
that prediction of “objectivity” is a case of knowledge but that 
the immediate existence or presentation of anyirhing is not; and 
there is much in his book which supports his taking such a stand. 
Nevertheless, Professor Reichenbach’s position is not unambigu- 
ous. Note, for example, his reference to immediate existing objects 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 259 ] 

as the most reliable facts, suggesting that immediate existents are 
thmgs known or to be known. Note again how simply a problem 
of knowledge is apparently generated when we ask what the 
concreta are upon which the world is to be constructed as a basis. 
These concreta are evidently not the common-sense objects, the 
chairs, tables, houses, and thermometers, for as common-sense 
objects they are already objective^ and Professor Reichenbach’s 
aim is to “logically construct” them out of more primitive stuff. 
If, on the other hand, the concreta are immediate existents with a 
lifetime only during the moments we observe them (cf. p. 199), 
how can they have stood up under repeated tests since as immedi- 
ate existents they are by hypothesis incapable of repetition? And 
have not the common-sense objects in fact become inaccessible to 
observation and knowledge, now that the immediately existing 
things (which Professor Reichenbach will presently tell us are 
only subjectively existing) are taken to be the appropriate objects 
of direct knowledge? There is ground for at least suspicion that 
Professor Reichenbach has on his hand the riddles of a presenta- 
tional theory of knowledge— suspicions which are permitted to 
ripen fully in his discussion of scientific objects. 

b) According to him, illata (i.e., scientific objects such as atoms, 
electrons, radio waves, and the like) are not concreta because for 
physical reasons they cannot acquire immediate existence, al- 
though it is not logically impossible that we should see radio 
waves “as we see those of light” (p. 215). Nevertheless, we can 
infer their objective existence as “independent entities,” though of 
course only with probability. Professor Reichenbach’s discussion 
of the relations between illata and concreta must be cited at some 
length. He first explains that the “concreteness” sometimes attrib- 
uted to things is mistakenly taken to be restricted to “things of a 
material existence,” because what things can enter the domain of 
immediate existence is “not at all determined by the place of things 
in the physical arrangement of the world, but by psychological 
conditions.” He then declares that the perspective in which we 
see the world from the standpoint of our “middle-scale dimen- 
sions” is one-sided. 

“We see the world in the scale of our sense capacities: we see houses, 
trees, men, tools, tables, solids, liquids, waves, fields, woods, and the 
whole covered by the vault of the heavens* This perspective, however. 



[260] Sovereign Reason 

is not only one-sided; it is false, in a certain sense. Even the concreta, 
the things which we believe we see as they are, are objectively of 
shapes otiier than we see them. We see the polished surface of our table 
as a smooth plane; but we know that it is a network of atoms with 
interstices much larger than the mass particles, and the microscope 
already shows not the atoms but the fact that the apparent smoothness 
is not better than the ‘smoothness’ of the peel of a shriveled apple. We 
see the iron stove before us as a model of rigidity, solidity, immovability; 
but we know that its particles perform a violent dance, and that it re- 
sembles a swarm of dancing gnats more than the picture of sohdity we 
attribute to it. . . . We do not see the things, not even the concreta, as 
they objectively are but in a distorted form, we see a substitute 'world 
—not the world as it is, objectively speaking. 

“Using the terminology developed above, we should say that even 
the concreta are only subjective things, of the type to which an objective 
thing of different form is coordinated. These things are coupled, but 
they are not strictly speakmg identical. . . . Our immediate world is, 
strictly speaking, subjective throughout; it is a substitute world in which 
we live.” (pp. 219-220.) 

What is the ground offered for these most important conclu- 
sions,^ The reason is that the mechanism of sensation is so organized 
that it cannot produce a sensation without superimposing upon it 
a certain “description,” 

“We do not see things as amorphous but always as framed within a 
certain description. . . . The objects of our sensations always have a 
^Gestalt character.’ They appear as if pressed into a certain conceptual 
frame; it is their being seen within this frame which we call immediate 
existence. The description in whose frame we see thmgs corresponds 
to the objecdve thing only to a certain extent . . . [and] is never more 
than a substitute for a completely true description and will express only 
certain more or less essential features of the physical object.” (p. 221.) 

The argument has now completed its full period and the bear- 
ings of Professor Reichenbach’s epistemological principles are ap- 
parent. Let us first clear away minor details. Professor Reichenbach 
began by claiming that the world of immediate existents enters 
“into our world without any intellectual operations being per- 
formed by us.” He has now apparently gone back on his word, 
maintaining that even immediately existing things are overlaid by 
a descriptional framework which we introduce; the alleged “sub- 
jectivity” of what is observed is taken to follow from this fact. 
On the other hand, he also maintains that the descriptions in whose 
frame we “see” things correspond to the objective things only to 



'Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 261 ] 

a certain extent. Now how does Professor Reichenbach know 
this? What avenue of information has he got about the objective 
world which enables him to characterize our judgments about the 
observeable world as “false in a certain sense”? For is not the 
reason for his discrediung judgments of observation that they are 
conditioned by the mechanism of the body> Is the knowledge he 
has of the objective things independent of such mechanism— is not 
this knowledge also selective and formulated in a “descriptional 
frame”? Why should not the knowledge he claims to have of 
scientific objects be also characterized as not being of objective 
things, for the very reasons he advances for ruling out the ob- 
jectivity of shapes and sounds and textures? 

Professor Reichenbach also declares that the table seen as smooth 
is not objectively smooth. But if the polished table-top is not ob- 
jectively smooth, to what can the term “objectively smooth” be 
legitimately applied? How would he characterize that tabled Surely 
it is in consonance with established usage to say, and therefore in 
accordance with the meaning of the phrase, that a polished table- 
top is objectively smooth. If Professor Reichenbach decides that 
such a table does not have this property, is he not simply altering 
the accepted meaning of the expression, and substituting for it a 
sense which is different from that ordinarily put upon it, and 
therefore irrelevant to the specific context he is considering? 

There is much in his discussion which suggests that according 
to him all qualities whatsoever have only “subjective existence.” 
Thus, in enumerating the various things that can directly appear 
as immediate existents he mentions “things, or states of things, 
including states of my body,” but maintains that qualities like red, 
warm, and hard are not given because “they do not belong to the 
external things”; and he also maintains that science has shown that 
things have such qualities only when they enter into relations with 
our own bodies (p. i68). Again, he declares that the fact that we 
see parallel railroad tracks as convergent “is a subjective fact, 
since the objective physical stimulus does not give any indication 
as to this psychological fact” (p. 242). But it is not clear, how- 
ever, how it follows from the fact that the occurrence of certain 
qualities is conditional upon the occurrence of certain physical 
processes, that those qualities have only subjective existence. Does 
not Professor Reichenbach find something curious in an argument 



[ 2 Si] Sovereign Reason 

which uses admitted facts of human physiology to support the 
conclusion that properties observable in physiological processes 
have only subjective existence? Again, is not the convergence of 
the parallel rails an objective fact about the rails, the behavior of 
light being what it is? Or is it Professor Reichenbach’s view that 
an account of the rails in terms of mechanical properties is a “truer” 
account than one in terms of their optical ones? There is some 
ground for suspicion that he has simply baptized as “subjective” 
whatever has conditions for its existence, occurrence, or appear- 
ance. In such terms, however, what thing or what property of 
things can rightfully claim objective existence^ 

Professor Reichenbach’s gravest error seems to me to consist in 
his taking perception as a case of knowledge, contrary to the main 
intent of his own argument. To prevent the possibility of mis- 
judging him, I shall add one further citation to those already 
given. In explaining that in spite of the subjectivity of concreta 
we need not therefore renounce the possibility of ever obtaining 
a “true picture of the world,” he declares: 

“The perspective of the beetle in the meadow is better than ours in 
the sense that it allows a more precise observation of the individual 
blades; but the green evenness of the meadow which we see is an essen- 
tial feature also, although unattainable for the beetle. When we see the 
polished table as a smooth surface, this is not simply false— this picture 
contains some qualities of the physical table which the picture of the 
swarm of ^ats suppresses, namely, the relative smallness of the corpuscles 
and interstices compared with the two-dimensional extension. It is true 
that our substitute world is one-sided; but at least it shows us some 
essential features of the world. Scientific investigation adds many new 
features. ... It is our task to organize all the different pictures obtained 
in this way into one superior whole. Though this whole is not, in itself, 
a picture m the sense of a direct perspective, it may be called intuitive in 
a more indirect sense. We wander through the world, from perspective 
to perspective, carrying our own subjective horizon with us; it is by a 
kind of intellectual integration of subjective views that we succeed in 
constructing a total view of the world, the consistent expansion of which 
entitles us to ever increasing claims of objectivity,” (p. 225.) 

He also explains that a logical construction of the world on the 
basis of immediate existents “allows us to obtain basic statements 
of a high degree of certainty; for it is much more certain that 
there is an immediate thing A than that there is an objective thing 
- 4 ” (p. 266). Indeed, apparently forgetting what he said pre- 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 263 ] 

viously about impression statements, he declares that the highest 
imtial weights are assigned to propositions about immediately ob- 
served things, so that “the most certain knowledge is consequendy 
of the immediate present” (p. 281). 

I frankly do not understand Professor Reichenbach if he does 
not mean to say that the beetle in perceiving blades of grass is 
having knowledge of the grass, just as we are having knowledge 
of It in perceiving the green of the meadow, even though both 
“views” are subjective. I do not pretend to know what can be 
meant by having certain knowledge of the immediate present; but 
I think It is clear that Professor Reichenbach claims such knowl- 
edge, and that in making such a claim he is equating the presenta- 
tion or occurrence of a datum with knowledge. It is useless at this 
stage to ask how one is to go about estimating the weights of such 
statements as “There is an immediate thing . 4 .” It is more impor- 
tant that we conclude this critical study with a few indications 
of the reasons which have led Professor Reichenbach to his present 
“dualistic” epistemology. 

If cases of perception (or immediate existence) are taken as cases 
of knowledge, the dualism of a subjective world (into which fall 
all the familiar common-sense objects) and an objective world 
(into which fall scientific objects) is generated in a familiar man- 
ner. For as Professor Reichenbach repeatedly illustrates, things 
as perceived do not exhibit properties which things taken as sci- 
entific objects are defined to have or are shown to possess by 
further inquiry. Thus, the perceived optical convergence of rails 
does not reveal either their mechanical parallelism or their optical 
parallelism from a different perspective; the observed smoothness 
of the table-top does not show the complicated molecular structure 
of the wood; and in general, the presentation of a trait in observa- 
tion does not disclose the complex of objects which competent 
scientific investigation establishes as the cause or condition of the 
existence of that trait. But if perception is knowledge, and if that 
knowledge is to be veridical, it is natural to argue that traits di- 
rectly observed ought to be the traits uncovered by the inferential 
procedures of the sciences. Since, however, this is not the case, and 
since the explanatory power of scientific objects is obviously 
superior, it is but a short step to the conclusion that perceptual 
knowledge is “false in a certain sense/^ that illata have objective 



[ 264 ] Sovereign Reason 

existence, and that matters directly observed have only subjective 
existence, especially since the occurrence of perceivable qualities 
is so clearly conditioned by physical and physiological processes 
in the perceiving organism. Thus, almost by a play upon words, 
we are condemned to inhabit a “substitute world,” with only 
problematic means of communication with the objective world of 
science. Will not Professor Reichenbach be persuaded to aban- 
don the premises from which his dualism follows, and adhere 
consistently to his genume insight that thinking as an inferential 
process is carried on in the objective common-sense world of houses 
and trees and wars, that it terminates in knowledge of this world, 
and that “immediate existents” are not objects but instrumentah- 
ties of such knowledge? Will he not reconsider his thesis that 
immediate existents are historical and psychological primitives, and 
come to think of them as terminal points in analysis, discriminated 
for the sake of making more reliable the application of our theories 
and of the controls we can institute to test their worths Will he 
not consistently recognize, what he does so excellently on occa- 
sion, that the identification, differentiation, and location of imme- 
diate existents can be performed only in terms of things whose 
objectivity must be taken for granted? He may then find that 
the “problem” of adjusting his two worlds, like the problem of 
the external world, requires no solution because there is no prob- 
lem to be solved. 

One final point. It is not possible to know how seriously Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach intends his language to be taken, and one may 
easily do him an injustice by taking his words more literally than 
he planned. But however that may be, he does talk of obtaining 
a “completely true description” of the world in terms of organiz- 
ing different subjective “pictures” or “perspectives” into one su- 
perior whole. Now it is one thing to organize into a unity the duffer- 
ent visual perspectives of a pair of rails; it is another thing to 
organize into a systematic whole the various physical and chemical 
theories we may have for the constitution of steel; and it is a third 
thing, and it seems to me a gravely confused thing, to try to or- 
ganize into a unified “description” the visual perspectives and 
physico-chemical conditions for the occurrence of these perspec- 
tives. Rightly or wrongly, Professor Reichenbach’s readers do get 
the impression that according to him a “true picture of the world” 



Probability and the Theory of Knowledge [ 265 ] 

would be a picture or image, but a picture without perspectives, 
without focus, and without selection. Would not such a “descrip- 
tion” simply be the whole world all over again, duplicated to 
serve a philosopher’s fancy? And in any case, is he doing a service 
to anyone in maintaining that it is not logically impossible to see 
atoms or radio waves? It is a question of fact into which we need 
not enter whether terms like “atom” are not so defined and used 
that it is a logical absurdity to suppose that atoms could be per- 
ceived. What is relevant to our purpose is to point out that Pro- 
fessor Reichenbach talks of scientific objects as if knowledge of 
them were a kind of seeing, and that in so doing he has not clari- 
fied what terms like “atom,” “radio wave,” “light wave” mean 
because he has not exhibited how such terms are used in theoretical 
physics and scientific inquiry. Thus, his defense of the “inde- 
pendent existence” of atoms is effective enough against those who 
deny such existence; but both the defense and the offense are 
carried on upon the common assumption that the atomic theory 
is a pictorial report or description of matters which, alas for our 
human limitations, are not accessible to direct observation through 
the senses. Is it not high time to challenge this assumption and to 
insist that having knowledge is nothing like having an image, how- 
ever grand and unified such images may be? And is not the way 
to discover what knowledge of the existence of atoms and light 
waves is, that of examining the procedures of the physicist when 
he claims such knowledge and of the uses he makes of these terms 
in his inquiries? Having now made his venture into epistemology, 
win not Professor Reichenbach return to the kind of analyses he 
was performing when he wrote his Axiomatik der Raum-Zeit 
Lehre and his Philosophie der Raum-Zeit Lehre? It is in such 
works that the strength and virtue of scientific philosophy lie. 



Sovereign Reason 


is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope 
‘what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to 
thrust aside what they do not thucydibes . 


I. 


TThe injunction to take Reason as one’s guide has fallen repeat- 
edly on men’s ears at least since classical antiquity; and the place 
of Reason in nature and society has been an oft-recurring theme in 
the history of thought. Philosophers have been perennially occu- 
pied with analyzing Reason’s anatomy and function; poets and 
moralists have celebrated its worth and dignity; and even those 
engrossed in the conquest and cynical use of power have not sel- 
dom made forma] obeisance to its authority. If men have so often 
been found wanting in adapting their conduct and beliefs to the 
precepts of Reason, it has surely not been for lack of frequent 
verbal encouragement to do so. 

[266 3 



Sovereign Reason [ 267 ] 

Men’s failure to live reasonably is in large measure a consequence 
of the fact that though man is by nature a rational animal, the 
proficient exercise of rational powers is not a natural blessing but 
a difficult achievement. For the full realization of those powers is 
the end-product of an arduous personal discipline, to which only 
a few of mankind have been able to subject themselves; and the 
exercise of those powers is also contingent upon favorable material 
and social circumstances, not easily called into existence, and not 
generally available in human epochs when a rigid tradition or 
brutal compulsion is the primary determinant of personal and 
social action. However, mankind’s alleged failure to take Reason 
for its guide cannot always be explained in such terms. For the 
allegation is often the consequence of the fact that human beliefs 
and actions are being judged on the basis of conflicting concep- 
tions as to what it is to be rational. Though the name of Reason 
is frequently invoked to sanction or to condemn various practices 
and beliefs, Reason’s ostensible spokesmen do not always speak 
with a single voice. In short, men have been confronted with in- 
compatible ideals of Reason, not all of which can be congruent 
with human powers and nature’s organization. Whatever else one 
may learn from the study of philosophy and its history, one can- 
not easily escape the fact that the canons which mankind has 
employed in evaluating the reasonableness of conduct and belief 
have varied with local tradition and historical circumstance. 

Systems of philosophy can indeed be profitably studied as ex- 
plicit and refined formulations of standards of rationality, pro- 
posed as ideals against which conduct and claims to genuine knowl- 
edge are to be measured. These standards, whatever may be the 
evidence on which their proponents formally accept them, have 
in general not been the exclusive creations of those who thus ex- 
plicitly propose them: they have frequently been the symptoms 
and intellectual expressions of pervasive tensions and needs oper- 
ating in various forms in the inclusive social matrix within which 
philosophical systems come to birth or find wide acceptance. It 
is thus undoubtedly illuminating to examine philosophical doc- 
trines in terms of their origins and causes and to determine to 
what extent the perspectives from which philosophers view the 
world are formed by current customs, current beliefs, and current 
moral and intellectual problems. 



[ 268 ] Sovereign Reason 

However, philosophical ideas are not simply otiose by-products 
of cultural processes, exercising no reciprocal influence upon their 
matrix cultures. On the contrary, the standards of rationality ex- 
plicitly or implicitly contained in philosophic systems have re- 
peatedly served as guides in resolving practical and intellectual 
issues and in directing theoretical inquiry. The general acceptance 
of a system of philosophy thus frequently leads to consequences 
of far-reaching importance to both society and science. Accord- 
ingly, the analysis of the canons of rationality involved in philo- 
sophic doctrines, with a view to evaluating their adequacy and 
authority, as distinct from investigating their causes and their 
matter-of-fact consequences, is a contribution, however indirect, 
to serious social criticism. 

It is with such an examination of the canons of rationality im- 
plicit in one historically influential system of philosophy— that of 
philosophical idealism— that the present paper is concerned. Few 
would care to deny that the domination which this system of ideas 
once exercised over thinking minds m this country is now a thing 
of the past. Nevertheless, the conception of Reason proposed by 
it is still worth serious attention. It is a conception which satisfies 
the deep-seated need of sensitive minds for an ideal that is inclusive 
and worthy of human devotion. It is a view of the goal of thought 
and of the power of reason that appears to many as the sole alterna- 
tive to accepting dogmatic preference and brute power as ultimate 
standards. And it is an interpretation of the office of Reason 
which still controls the minds of many men eminent in science 
and art, and which in various guises guides much recent discussion 
in social and moral philosophy. One is therefore not engaging in 
a gratuitous intellectual exercise in attempting a fresh evaluation 
of this ideal of Reason. Is it an ideal firmly rooted in the character 
of the world and implicit in the actual operations of human reflec- 
tion? Or is it a conception of the goal of thought that is funda- 
mentally irrelevant to the procedures and conclusions of controlled 
inquiry, inherently incapable of even partial attainment, the vain 
pursuit of which leads only to an enervating scepticism and even- 
tual despair? 

This ideal of Reason has been argued in recent years with great 
vigor and unusual clarity by Professor Brand Blanshard. His pres- 
entation of the case for it has in addition the merit of recognizing 



Sovereign Reason [ 269 ] 

many of the deficiencies and obscurities of earlier formulations of 
the doctrine and of exhibiting considerable familiarity with rele- 
vant developments in modem logic and science. The task of evalu- 
ating the standard of rationality proposed by philosophic idealism 
has thus become a relatively easy one, for it is now possible to 
concentrate on Mr. Blanshard’s presentation of the evidence for 
this ideal, in the confident behef that no presentation of the case 
for it more cogent than his could be made. Accordingly, the present 
paper will be devoted exclusively to appraising some of the con- 
siderations advanced by Mr. Blanshard in favor of this ideal. It 
will be impossible, naturally, to deal with all the issues he raises 
in all their dimensions, and m particular it will be necessary to pass 
by in silence his own criticisms of alternative standards of ration- 
ality that have been proposed by contemporary pluralistic natur- 
alists. But while much in his argument must be neglected, it is 
hoped that what will be discussed is at any rate near the center of 
his vision. 

What, then, is the proper goal of Reason, as Mr. Blanshard 
envisages it, and what are the arguments upon which he rests his 
case.^^ The very end and goal of Reason, he declares, 

is to understand, and to understand is always to follow an objective pat- 
tern or order. What kind of order is this^ If it is to satisfy reason, it 
must be an intelligible order, and what is that? It is an order that never 
meets our question Why? with a final rebuff, one in which there is always 
an answer to be found, whether in fact we find it or not. And what sort 
of answer would satisfy that question? Only an answer in terms of 
necessity, and ultimately of logical necessity, since of any answer that 
falls short of this the question Why^ can be raised again. When we 
reach an answer that is necessary, we see that to repeat the question is 
idle. Of any statement of merely causal necessity, such as the law of 
gravitation, or Ohm’s law, or Boyle’s law, we can intelligibly ask why 
things should behave in this manner. But when we see that things equal 
to the same thing are equal to each other, we cannot sensibly ask why, 
because we are at the end of the line to which such questioning can take 
us. We have already reached the logically necessary.^ 

And as he explains more fuUy elsewhere, 

Fully coherent knowledge would be knowledge in which every judg- 
ment entailed, and was entailed by, the rest of the system^ Probably 
we never find in fact a system where there is so much of interdepen- 

I. “Current Strictures on Reason,” Fhilosophtcal Revie'W, LTV (July, 1945), 
360-361. 



[ 270 ] Sovereign Reason 

dence. ... It is in such systems, perhaps, as Euclidean geometry that 
we get the most perfect examples of coherence that have been con- 
structed. If any proposition were lacking, it could be supplied from the 
rest; if any were altered, the repercussions would be felt through the 
length and breadth of the system. Yet even such a system as this falls 
short of ideal system. Its postulates are unproved; they are independent 
of each other, in the sense that none of them could be derived from any 
other or even from all the others together; its clear necessity is brought 
by an abstractness so extreme as to have left out nearly everything that 
belongs to the character of actual things. A completely satisfactory 
system would have none of these defects. No proposition would be arbi- 
trary, every proposition would be entailed by the others jointly and 
even singly, no proposition would stand outside the system. . . 

But this ideal of knowledge is a valid ideal, and something other 
than the expression of undisciplined self-indulgence, Mr. Blanshard 
believes, only if the world which thought seeks to apprehend is 
one “in which intelligence finds an answering intelligibility,”^ only 
if reality likewise is an “all-inclusive and perfectly integrated sys- 
tem”^ whose parts logically imply each other. It is upon this view 
of reality that he ultimately rests his case for the ideal of reason he 
professes, and it is to a defense of this -theory of reality that he 
devotes his best efforts. 

At this point, however, a reader not antecedently committed to 
Mr. Blanshard’s canons of intelligibility might enter a protest. 
Why should the goal of human reason, such a reader might ask, 
be dictated by this alleged character of reality, even if this all- 
inclusive reality does have the character Mr. Blanshard believes it 
to have? What logical compulsion is there that even if the world 
does possess such a perfectly integrated logical structure, human 
thought should seek to encompass it^ Are not the actual tasks of 
human reason set by specific problems, involving only a sector of 
what exists, whose successful resolution does not, in point of fact, 
require a consideration of the rest of nature? And should not, 
therefore, the ideals of human reason, and the principles of criti- 
cism that men ought to employ in evaluating proposed solutions 
to their problems, be established by considering the ways in which 
specific problems do become resolved, rather than by trying to 

2. The Nature of Thought (New York, 1940), II, 264-266. 

3. “Current Strictures on Reason,” p. 361. 

4. The Nature of Thought, H, 475, 



Sovereign Reason [ 271 ] 

ground those ideals and principles in the character of an all- 
inclusive reality that is only vaguely present to men’s vision^ 

Mr. Blanshard is not entirely unmindful of such objections, nor 
does he conceal from himself that the ideal of knowledge he por- 
trays is in conflict with the general positivistic tenor of modern 
science as well as with many current naturalistic interpretations 
of the function of thought. Nevertheless, he attempts to show that 
the ideal he invokes for human reason is implicit in the tasks human 
reason normally undertakes. He rejects the view, common since 
Hume, that all propositions about matters of fact are contingent; 
for he maintains and tries to prove that “in the end” no proposi- 
tions are devoid of logical necessity, and that only on the sup- 
position that no proposition is “altogether contingent”® can re- 
sponsible inquiry be distinguished from arbitrary postulation. Ob- 
jections of the type briefly cited above do not therefore lead Mr. 
Blanshard to doubt his fundamental commitments, and a critic 
who wishes to come to grips with him must consider the positive 
arguments he employs to support his thesis. The foundation upon 
which Mr, Blanshard builds his case is the doctrine of internal 
relations, and it is with an examination of his arguments for this 
doctrine that the remainder of this paper will be concerned. 

2 . 

The issue raised by the doctrine of internal relations is “whether 
a term could be what it is apart from the relations it bears to 
others.” Mr. Blanshard explains this issue more fully as follows: 

A relation is internal to a term when in its absence the term would be 
different; it is external when its addition or withdrawal would make no 
difference to the term, . . , Those who accept the theory of internal 
relations . . . hold that everything, if we knew enough, would turn our 
to be internally related to everydbing else. . . 

But this formulation, he believes, is not free from ambiguity, and 
he therefore amplifies it into the following statement: 

. . . Everything is so integral a part of a context that it can neither be 
nor be truly conceived apart from that context. Put more formally, the 
theory is this: (i) that every term, i.e., every possible object of thought, 
is what it is in virtue of relations to what is other than itself; (2) that its 

5. ^‘Current Strictures on Reason,” p. 368. 

6. The Nature of Thought, II, 451. 



[ 272 ] Sovereign Reason 

nature is affected thus not by some of its relations only, but in differing 
degrees by all of them, no matter how external they may seem; ( 3 ) that 
in consequence of (2) and of the further obvious fact that everything is 
related in some way to everything else, no knowledge will reveal com- 
pletely the nature of any term until it has exhausted that term’s relations 
to everything elseJ 

Mr. Blanshard’s statement of the doctrine of internal relations 
has undoubted advantages of greater clarity over other formula- 
tions. Nevertheless, one crucial point in it seems to me essentially 
obscure, and something must be said about it before I turn to his 
detailed defense of his thesis. For in the statement of his doctrine 
as well as in the ensuing discussion of it Mr. Blanshard uses the 
phrase “the nature of a term,” though I have been unable to dis- 
cover in his writings any explicit explanation of what he means by 
it; yet everything depends upon the sense that is to be assigned 
to it. What ought we to understand by the expression? 

At least three uses of the word “nature” can be distinguished 
when the word occurs in such contexts as “the nature of 

(i) In the first place, it frequently occurs in questions and 
answers such as the following: “What is the nature of a circle^”— 
“The nature of a circle is to be a closed plane curve, all of whose 
points are equidistant from a fixed point”; “What is the nature of 
electricity?”— “The nature of electricity is to be a mode of physi- 
cal behavior specified by Maxwell’s equations”; “What is the na- 
ture of man^”— “The nature of man is to be a rational animal” It 
is clear that in this usage, the terms whose natures are being dis- 
cussed are kinds, characters, or universals, are capable of repeated 
exemplification in concrete individuals and processes but are not 
themselves concrete individuals or processes. Successful inquiries 
into natures, in this sense of the word, terminate in what has tra- 
ditionally been called definition, though the outcome of such re- 
search might more appropriately be designated as theory. The 
intellectual service that is rendered when the natures of universals 
are satisfactorily formulated is‘ that other generic characters asso- 
ciated with the former can be exhibited as logical implicates of 
those umversals.® I shall call this use of the word “nature” its 
primary use. 

7, Ibid,, p. 452. 

8. Although I am employing realistic language throughout this paper, and 
am thus assuming that there are such things as universals, this is done primarhy 



Sovereign 'Reason [ 273 ] 

An allied sense of the word “nature” is illustrated by such state- 
ments as “The nature of gold is to be malleable” and “It is the 
nature of cats to catch mice.” Here again natures are predicated 
of umversals or characters, not of individuals. However, what is 
said in such statements to be the nature of a kind is not a definition 
or complete theory of the kind but is regarded as merely a logical 
implicate of some assumed complete theory. Thus, the dispositional 
predicate “being malleable” is generally not taken to constitute 
the definition of gold, though it is commonly supposed to follow 
logically from such a defimtion. 

(2) A second important sense of the word “nature” is illus- 
trated by such statements as* “It is the nature of this particular 
figure to have an angle-sum equal to two right-angles,” “To be 
rust-resisting is the nature of this knife,” or “The nature of Socrates 
is to be mortal.” In these contexts natures are being predicated of 
concrete things or individuals, rather than of universals or char- 
acters as in the previous examples. However, statements like the 
present ones must frequently be understood as elliptic formulations, 
in which something is predicated to be the nature, or to be of 
the nature, of an individual, only in the sense that the individual 
has the character designated as its nature as a consequence of his 
displaying some other character. Thus, the mortality which is 
asserted to be of the nature of Socrates belongs to him insofar as 
Socrates is human, for if Socrates is a man, and assuming an appro- 
priate formulation of the nature of the generic character man 
(in the primary sense of the word “nature”), it follows that 
Socrates is mortal. In this usage of the word “nature,” therefore, 
to be snub-nosed is not part of the nature of Socrates, since though 
he is a man, it does not follow from his being one that he is snub- 
nosed. In this usage, also, though to be mortal is of the nature of 
Socrates insofar as he is human, mortality need not be part of his 
nature insofar as he may exhibit some other generic character, 
for example having a physical body of a determinate shape. Ac- 
cordingly, when, in the present sense of the word “nature,” an 
mdividual is said to have a specified nature, what is being asserted 


for the sake of expediting the present discussion. Whether, and in what sense, 
one must make this assumption is another question, whose resolution does 
not, I think, affect the argument in this paper. 



[ 274 ] Sovereign Reasofi 

is a connection between characters or umversals. Since, however, 
an individual possesses an indefinite number of characters, not all 
of which logically entail one another, whether a given trait the 
individual exhibits does or does not belong to his nature is relative 
to what other character is selected for describing the individual. 

(3) I come finally to a third and most puzzling use of the word 
“nature,” according to which individuals are said to have intrinsic 
natures, where the predication of such natures is supposed to be 
made without eEipsis, Thus, it is frequently said that the nature 
of a given individual (eg., Socrates) is to be a man, or that the 
nature of the moon is to be a satellite, not insofar as those indi- 
viduals exhibit some further character, but absolutely and with- 
out qualification. What are we to understand by the word “nature” 
when it is used in this manner.^ 

There is one interpretation that seems obvious, though it may 
not carry us far. On this interpretation the character attributed to 
an individual as its nature is one which permits the systematic 
organization and logical derivation of a large number of other 
traits the individual exhibits. For example, m asserting that the 
nature of Socrates is to be a man, what we are asserting on the 
proposed interpretation is that many other characters possessed by 
Socrates, such as the ability to see and hear, to experience joy and 
sorrow, to resent injury, to remember and reflect, are logical con- 
sequences of his being a man. However, this interpretation of the 
word “nature” does not require us to say that every trait an indi- 
vidual thing possesses is a consequence of its nature. Thus, even 
if on some theory of man it would follow from the fact that Soc- 
rates is a man that he must be capable of sexual passion, it would 
not follow from his fiature alone that he must be fond of music, 
or that he must be a lover of Alcibiades. In brief, on this inter- 
pretation of the term, in predicating a character of an individual 
as its nature we bring into systematic order only a selected group 
of traits and actions it exhibits. 

It is at this point that our difficulties begin, for there apparently 
are some people, among whom Mr, Blanshard is perhaps to be 
included, who conceive the nature of an individual as something 
which logically determines all the thing’s attributes and relation^ 
properties and not merely some of them. But such a use of the 
word “nature” seems to me to lead to fatal consequences. 



Sovereign Reason [ 275 ] 

In the first place, it is quite clear that just what characters are 
included in an individual, and just where the boundaries of an 
individual are drawn, depend on decisions as to the use of lan- 
guage. These decisions, though motivated by considerations of 
practical utility, are logically arbitrary. Thus, the expression ‘‘the 
sun” is generally understood to cover an object confined to a 
certain apparent volume possessing a certain shape, and exhibiting 
certain radiant properties; it is usually not employed so as to cover 
the innumerable spatial relations that object has to other things, 
nor the energies that had been radiated from the object but are 
now millions of miles away from it. Nevertheless, the phrase “the 
sun” could be used so that the individual thing to which it refers 
will include not only the items just mentioned but also all the 
physical events that stand to the thing (as initially specified) in 
relations of causal antecedents and consequences, and even all the 
images and ideas which men have had or ever will have of it. Ac- 
cordingly, just what qualities and relations are to be included as 
parts or elements of an individual thing is not a question to be 
settled by empirical investigation of facts, but a question which 
calls for a practical delimitation. 

However, if the word “individual” is so used that an individual 
will include all possible attributes, relations, and relational prop- 
erties it may possess, two consequences immediately follow: there 
will be only one individual, which will coincide with the con- 
jectural “totality” of all things, events, and relations; and secondly, 
every statement containing the name of an individual will express 
an analytical proposition. Both consequences are practically un- 
desirable, for reasons too obvious to need mention. But these 
consequences can be avoided only by restricting the use of the 
word “individual,” as is normally done, $0 that individuals will 
include only a proper subset of their possible attributes and rela- 
tional properties, however vaguely this subset might be delimited 
and however inexhaustible its membership may be. 

But if this is so, and if, as is generally admitted, in the normal 
use of the word “individual” individuals are not logically definable 
(because they are taken to include an inexhaustible set of logically 
independent characters), what are we to understand by assertions 
concerning the nature of an individual thing, in the absolute, un- 
qualified sense of the word “nature”? We must remind ourselves 



[ 276 ] Sovereign Reason 

that, in this absolute sense, the nature of an individual is supposed 
to determine logically all the thing’s traits and behaviors, its en- 
during as well as its passing quahties. On the other hand, it is 
demonstrable that if the nature of a thing is something that is 
capable of formulation and definition, the nature of a thing can- 
not by itself determine all of its characteristics. For example, if 
to be a metal is taken to be the nature of a concrete thing, this 
nature may entail the fact that the thing is malleable; but this 
nature will not, by itself, determine the specific degree of malle- 
ability exhibited by the thing, nor will it determine the specific 
shapes the thing may assume at various times. Such further state- 
ments about the thing are derivable from a statement about its 
nature only if the latter is supplemented by other, logically inde- 
pendent statements, which are instantial in form and specify the 
contingent initial and boundary conditions under which the thing 
happens to exist. Accordingly, on the supposition that the natures 
of things are statable and definable, the nature of a thing cannot 
determine every character the thing may possess. 

As far as I can see, however, this conclusion can be avoided in 
only one way— by equatmg the nature of a thing with the thing 
itself. But such an attempted escape from difficulties leads to con- 
sequences no less disastrous. In the first place, the nature of a 
thing, like the thing itself, would be something that is in prin- 
ciple indefinable and could not therefore be made the basis for 
bringing into systematic order any of the characters which the 
thing displays. In the second place, every statement which men- 
tions the nature of an individual would express no more than a 
trivial analytical proposition. And in the third place, since dis- 
cursive thought would be inherently inadequate to the task of dis- 
covering the natures of things, the goal of understanding the 
natures of things could not be a pertinent ideal for human reason. 

Should these difficulties be brushed aside with the comment that 
they arise only for finite minds and not for an '‘infinite intelli- 
gence,” the appropriate rejoinder is close at hand. Why should 
finite minds adopt an ideal of reason that is suitable for an intelli- 
gence totally different from theirs^ Moreover, would not even an 
all-encompassing mind fail to achieve the “fully coherent knowl- 
edge” that Mr. Blanshard envisages as the ultimate aim of thought? 
For the characters things possess fall into a large number of sub- 



Sovereign Reason [ 277 ] 

classes which are demonstrably independent of each other logi- 
cally, If, therefore, an infinite mind did ever come to know the 
nature of a thing, it would know it only as a miscellaneous col- 
lection of attributes and relational properties, some of which do 
logically entail others, and some of which are logically independent 
of others. Accordingly, even such a mind would be compelled to 
recognize an ineradicable contingency in the very heart of the 
nature of things. 

I have spent much time on matters that are preliminary to a 
discussion of Mr. Blanshard’s arguments for the doctrine of in- 
ternal relations. I hope the time has not been misspent. Mr. Blan- 
shard nowhere states explicitly what he understands by the phrase 
“the nature of a term”; but his rejection of the false or abstract 
universal in favor of the true or concrete universal suggests that 
for him the nature of a thing simply is the total set of characters 
included in the thing. Indeed, he does say that 

the nature of any term, unless the term is itself a relation, consists of 
attributes or properties (in the non-technical sense), by the nature of an 
apple we mean its roundness, its redness, its juiciness, and so on. Thus a 
change m any of the properties would be a change in the apple’s nature.® 

And such a statement does provide some ground for the suspicion 
that this is the way he is using the expression “the nature of a 
thing.” But in any event, I shall try to show that only on such 
an interpretation of this expression do his arguments for the doc- 
trine of internal relations fail to illustrate the fallacy of non sequitur. 

3 - 

I shall examine Mr. Blanshard’s arguments for the doctrine of 
internal relations under three divisions into which they can be 
conveniently placed: arguments concerned with the relations of 
concrete things to one another, those dealing with the relations 
of universals; and finally, those addressed to the nature of causal 
relations. 

Although Mr. Blanshard offers several grounds for his theory 
under the first head, they seem to me to be homogeneous in type, 
and I shall therefore comment on only one, in the belief that it is 
representative of the others. According to this argument, “every- 
thing is related to everything else by the relation of difference at 


9. The Nature of Thought, II, 478. 



[ 278 ] Sovereign Reason 

least,” so that if A and B are two concrete (and therefore distinct) 
individuals, A must be related to B by the relation of difference. 
However, were this relation altered, A would no longer be the 
thing it is, since it would then not differ from that which, by 
hypothesis, is distinct from itself. But “a relation that could not 
be theoretically changed without changing the thing itself is pre- 
cisely what we mean by an internal relation.”^® Hence the rela- 
tion of difference is internal to A; indeed, everything is therefore 
internally related in this manner to everything else. And by a 
stncdy parallel argument Mr. Blanshard also tries to show that 
“what holds in this respect of the relation of difference holds of 
other relations as weU.”^^ 

I fear, however, that though this argument has the impressive 
quality of great simplicity, its only merit is that it establishes a 
truism. To show that this is so, I shall restate it in terms of a 
special example. Suppose A and B are two individual plane figures, 
A having the shape of a circle, B that of a triangle. A and B are 
surely different, both numerically and with respect to the shapes 
they possess. Mr. Blanshard’s claim is that the relation of being 
different from B is internal to A, because if A did not stand in this 
relation to B, A would be different from what it in fact is. Does 
the argument establish what Mr. Blanshard believes it does.^ 

(a) Notice, in the first place, that if the nature of a thing is 
distinguished from the thing, the admitted facts of the example 
do not yield the conclusion that the relation of difference is in- 
ternal to the individual A. Undoubtedly, given that B is triangular 
in shape, A could not be circular unless A differed in shape from 
B. But to say that A would fail to have the shape it does in fact 
have, did it not differ in shape from B, is prima facie not equiva- 
lent to saying that A^s nature would be affected were A not dif- 
ferent in shape from B. However, on Mr. Blanshard’s explicit 
formulation of the doctrine of internal relations, it is this latter 
claim that must be made good if the relation of difference is to be 
established as internal to A, But Mr. Blanshard offers no reasons 
why his readers should accept this claim, unless indeed he assumes, 
contrary to the hypothesis, that A and A's nature are one and the 
same. If, however, he does assume this, the relation of difference 

10. Ibid ,, pp. 476-477. 

11. Ibid., p. 478. 



Sovereign Reason [ 279 ] 

is internal to A, but only because of some initial (though perhaps 
not explicit) practical decision as to what attributes and relational 
properties are to be included in the individual A, Accordingly, 
Mr. Blanshard has supplied adequate grounds for the statement 
that difference is a relation internal to A if, and only if, tliis state- 
ment is construed as a glaring tautology. 

(b) Let us consider the matter in another light. Suppose that 
the individual figure B were to be destroyed so that A, though 
retaining its circular shape, would no longer be different from 
B—for the simple reason that there no longer would be the figure 
B from which it could differ. It seems, therefore, that A remains 
the thing it is in spite of the fact that one of its relations is altered. 

I do not know what Mr, Blanshard would say to this objection 
to his argument, but his reply might conceivably take the follow- 
ing form: To be sure, he might say, the shape of A need not be 
affected by the destruction of the individual B, but its nature 
would be. For the nature of A is something such that the fact that 
A stands in some relation J? to a thing follows logically from that 
nature. But since, on the hypothesis under discussion, A ceases to 
have a relation to a thing that it did have, A's nature must be ac- 
knowledged to have undergone alteration, on pain of logical con- 
tradiction. 

If this is Mr. Blanshard’s reply, he requires us to consider again 
the cryptic notion of the nature of an individual thing. Now it is 
certainly the case that the proposition, A is different in shape from 
By follows logically from the two propositions that A is circular 
in shape and B is triangular, where A and B are two plane figures. 
But it is well to note that the conclusion of this inference is en- 
tailed by propositions about the shapes of the two individuals. 
If, then, the relational property of being different from B is alleged 
to be internal to Ay it is internal to it only relative to the contingent 
facts that A is circular and B is triangular. Accordingly, to assert 
that A is necessarily related to B by the relation of difference, is 
simply an elliptic formulation of the fact that the characters A 
and B possess logically exclude one another. On the other hand, 
neither the proposition that A is circular in shape nor the proposi- 
tion that B is triangular in shape is logically necessary, and we 
cannot therefore conclude that the relational property of being 
different from B is internal to A without further qualification. On 



[ 28o ] Sovereign Reason 

the contrary, though the relation of difference may be internal 
to A relative to A's possessing one character, it will not in general 
be internal to A relative to A\ possessing some other character. For 
example, if A and B are figures constructed out of white chalk, the 
relational property of being different from B is not internal to A 
relative to its being white m color. 

Mr. Blanshard’s hypothetical reply to the objection does not 
therefore dispose of it, unless indeed he construes the nature of a 
thing to be identical with the total set of attributes and relational 
properties the thing possesses. In that case, however, he has been 
arguing strenuously for a truism that no one would care to dispute. 

(c) It IS pertinent to note, moreover, that even if one were to 
grant Mr. Blanshard’s claim that all the characters a thing pos- 
sesses are internal to it, his major task would still be ahead of 
him. For he would still have to show that the necessary relations 
in which individuals stand to one another satisfy his requirements 
for a perfectly coherent rational system. In particular, there would 
remain the task of showing that the complex of characters which 
constitute an individual thing's nature do indeed form such a 
system—so that if P and Q are any two characters that are ele- 
ments in a thing’s nature, P and Q mutually entail one another. On 
the face of it, this seems like a hopeless undertaking, if modem 
mathematics and natural science do not deceive us in asserting that 
there are many characters which are logically independent of one 
another. And unless Mr. Blanshard can find an answer to what 
appear to be cogent demonstrations of such independence, he 
must surrender his conception of what is the ultimate ideal of 
reason. 


4 - 

This last observation leads directly to the second division of 
Mr. Blanshard’s arguments, which attempts to show that every 
universal is internally related to every other. 

One approaches the discussion of this part of Mr. Blanshard’s 
thesis in the cheerful hope that the obscurities surrounding the 
claim that concrete things are internally related to one another 
will no longer plague us. For there is a fairly clear sense in which 
relations between universals may be said to be internal to their 
natures. Thus, the relational property of having an area greater 



Sovereign Reason [ 281 ] 

than that of any other closed plane figure with the same perimeter 
may be said to be internal to a Euclidean circle, because this prop- 
erty is logically entailed by the nature of Euclidean circles. On 
the other hand, the character of having radii of four feet is not 
internal to Euchdean circles, because neither this character nor 
any of its contraries are logically implied by that universal. In 
this sense of the word ‘‘internal” it would appear therefore that 
some universals are internally related while others are not, so that 
in consequence the doctrine of internal relations ought to be 
judged as false. 

However, Mr. Blanshard does not permit us to decide the merits 
of the doctrine so quickly. For he makes plain that he is affirming 
the vahdity of the doctrine for what he designates as “concrete 
universals,” not for the “false” or “abstract” universals of which 
examples have just been given. To be sure, this qualification car- 
ries with it at least the tacit acknowledgment that the doctrine is 
false when abstract universals are taken to fall within its scope, 
and so much at any rate may perhaps be regarded as settled. And 
since, as I believe, it is with the interrelations of abstract uni- 
versals that discursive thought (in the sciences and elsewhere) is 
primarily concerned, an ideal of reason that is based on the pre- 
sumed truth of the doctrine that concrete universals are internally 
related does not appear to be obviously relevant to the normal 
operations of reflective inquiry. But I must also confess that I am 
quite unclear as to what one is to understand by the phrase “con- 
crete universals,” if the expression does not signify concrete indi- 
viduals in all their manifold relations and dependencies; and if 
this is at least approximately the meaning of the phrase, all the 
obscurities which attend the doctrine of internal relations when 
applied to individuals make their unwelcome reappearance when 
the doctrine is applied to concrete universals. 

However, this may be, Mr. Blanshard defends his claim that all 
universals are internally related, chiefly by trying to dispose of a 
number of standard objections to this thesis. His replies to these 
objections bring to a focus several crucial questions, and I shall 
therefore examine two series of representative comments he makes 
that bear upon them. 

(i) A typical criticism of the doctrine, formulated by Mr. 
Blanshard runs as follows: “Certain abstractions in the field of 



[ 282 ] Sovereign Reason 

quantity, for example the number three, remain the same and un- 
aJffected through every possible embodiment, and in every pos- 
sible context/’^2 2 nt since the embodiment of such umversals does 
not necessarily involve the embodiment of other abstract charac- 
ters, the former are not internally related to the latter. Hence 
not all universals are internally related. 

Mr. Blanshard counters this criticism with a threefold rejoinder. 

(a) His first comment is that the alleged independence of the 
number three from context is not an independence in all respects, 
“for it is so intimately bound up with the other members of the 
number series that if its relations to any one of them were al- 
tered, if three were no longer greater than two, for example, or 
less than four, it would simply vanish.”^^ I am afraid, however, 
that Mr. Blanshard is here scoring only against m3n:hical oppo- 
nents and against those who confuse the contradictory of a prop- 
osition with its contrary. His present remark carries no weight 
against those of his critics who, in denying that all relations of 
the number three are internal to its nature, do not deny that some 
of its relations are internal. 

(b) The second part of Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder asserts that 
“identity in difference” creeps into even purely arithmetical anal- 
ysis. According to him, the equation “3 = 2 i” asserts that “in 
some respect or other the two sides are the same.” But if the two 
sides are “merely and abstractly the same, i.e., the same with no 
difference at all,” a distinction is asserted without difference; and 
if they are “merely different,” the equation asserts what is not, 
for the equation “expressly declares that they are not different 
wholly.”^^ 

I have not been able to discover what direct bearing these re- 
marks have on the question whether all the relations of the number 
three are internal to it. The remarks do reveal, however, a common 
mistake in analysis, the mistake of confusing a sign with what the 
sign expresses. The essential point to note is that the equation 
“3 = 2 -f- I ” is a complex linguistic sign, whose two members 
are different symbolic expressions. What the equation asserts (as- 
suming that it is not being used to state the nominal definition of 

12. Ibid, p. 471. 

13. Ibid., p. 472. 

14. Ibid. 



Sovereign Reason [ 283 ] 

the numeral “3”)^ that the number referred to by its left-hand 
member is identically the same as the number described by the 
right-hand member, where the descriptive phrase describes the 
number in terms of a certain operation upon two other numbers. 
The identity in difference which Mr. Blanshard finds in the equa- 
tion thus reduces itself to the following: the same number is de- 
noted by two different expressions. But surely this fact cannot be 
used to cast doubt on the claims of Mr. Blanshard’s critics that a 
universal may appear in two different contexts without under- 
going any alteration in its nature. 

(c) The remaining part of Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder asserts 
that the alleged indifference of abstracted quantities to concrete 
contexts is simply the consequence of a definition and cannot 
therefore be taken as decisive evidence against his view. He thus 
declares that 

when it is asked whether . . . purely numerical differences, or the assem- 
blies of them of which the several numbers are composed, depend on the 
special differences of the terms, the answer presumablv is No. But does 
this prove that there are purely numerical differences in nature? It is 
hard to see that it does. All that it shows is that if one defines one’s units 
as independent of special differences, then they will be independent of 
special differences. It does not show that one’s definition corresponds to 
anything in reality 

This curious comment seems to me a child of desperation. Mr. 
Blanshard is apparently not denying that the number three is a 
universal. But if the number is a universal, and if its presumed 
logical independence from various other universals with which it 
may sometimes be conjoined is simply the consequence of its 
definition, just how, one would like to know, is the number to be 
conceived so that this logical independence is irrelevant for under- 
standing the true nature of three^ Moreover, what good reasons 
are there for doubting that the number three as defined corre- 
sponds, or may correspond, to something in reality.^ When we 
discover that two sets of elements in nature (say, the individuals 
gathered to play Beethoven’s Opus 70, No. i, and the principal 
planets whose orbits are interior to the orbit of Mars) can be 
matched in a one-to-one fashion, do we not discover a genuine 
fact in the real~a fact which is expressed by saying that the two 


15 Ibid., p 473 



[ 284 ] Sovereign Reason 

sets possess the common cardinal number three^ The obvious 
truth seems to be that the cardinal numbers, like other universals, 
are properties of groups of elements that are invariants under 
certain transformations and conditions; and although they are prop- 
erties which can be defined, the fact that they are invariants is not 
simply a matter of definition. Nor does the assumption that car- 
dinal numbers are invariants entail the conclusion that “there are 
purely numerical differences in nature.” On the contrary, they 
could not very well be invariants unless the groups of things which 
they characterize were distinguishable in various respects. Ac- 
cordingly, to say that the cardinals are invariants is simply another 
way of saying that they are not internally related to every other 
character with which they may jointly occur. 

(2) Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder to one criticism of the theory of 
internal relations thus seems to me to be somewhat less than con- 
clusive. I now turn to his comments upon a second objection, 
which maintains that we can have adequate knowledge of a uni- 
versal (say redheadedness) without knowing all its relations to 
every other universal that might be exemplified by the individuals 
possessing the first— for example, without knowing all the relations 
of redheadedness to the mental and bodily traits of redheaded 
people. The crux of Mr. Blanshard’s reply to this is that while we 
can, and do, have some knowledge of redheadedness without know- 
ing all its relations, we cannot know “red-headedness fully and as 
it really is without such knowledge.”^® 

This reply is certainly conclusive if the phrase “to have full 
knowledge” simply means to know all the relations of a char- 
acter; and perhaps at bottom Mr. Blanshard does rest his case on 
what is essentially a stipulation as to his use of language. Never- 
theless, there are some indications that he is aiming at a less arbi- 
trary disposition of a serious criticism of his views. For he declares 
that the “red-headedness now explicitly presented to thought” is 
not “all there is to that attribute as it exists in the nature of things,” 
since an idea “always points beyond itself; it always means more 
than it is; it always refers to more than it includes within the 
circle of its explicit content.”^*^ He continues: 


r6. Ibid,, p. 488. 
17. Ibid,, p. 489. 



Sovereign Reason [ 285 ] 

Red-headedness is an integral part of an organism, and indeed is so 
bound up, for example, with the structure of hair-fibres, and this in turn 
with all manner of constitutional factors determining racial and indi- 
vidual differences that our common notion of it supplies scarcely more 
than a sign-post to its real or ultimate nature, i.e., to what it is as em- 
bedded m Its own context.^® 

But do these explanations remove the force of the criticism? I 
think not, and for the following reasons: 

(a) In the first place, the point of the criticism (namely, that 
one could have adequate knowledge of redheadedness without 
knowing all its relations) does not reside in the claim that the 
redheadedness explicitly presented to thought is “all there is” to 
this character; at any rate, there are many who raise that objec- 
tion to Mr. Blanshard’s thesis and at the same time deny such a 
claim. The point of the criticism is that the adequacy of one’s 
knowledge of redheadedness is to be measured in terms of its 
relevance to the specific problems which may generate inquiry 
into that character. There are, however, many distinct problems 
which may generate such inquiry, and not just one all-encompass- 
ing difficulty; and there is no good reason to suppose that what 
may be an adequate resolution of one problem is either adequate 
or relevant to every other. The problem a readheaded woman 
faces who wishes to adorn herself attractively is not the problem 
which may agitate the physiologist or geneticist, and neither of 
these problems coincides with the question that a student of the 
physics of color may put to himself. Why should one imagine that 
these various problems are simply limited aspects of one inclusive 
problem, or that the several answers to them are necessarily rele- 
vant to one another^ And why should one suppose, in advance of 
specific inquiry y that in the attempt to answer any one question 
about redheadedness one is inevitably and necessarily led to the 
consideration of every relation in which that character stands to 
others? 

(b) I come to my second reason. A customary way of dis- 
tinguishing between umversals and concrete individuals is to say 
that the former, unlike the latter, are capable of repeated exempli- 
fication and are often definable. But according to Mr. Blanshard, 
redheadedness is no more repeatable and definable than are the 


18. Ibid , p. 490. 



[ 286 ] Sovereign Reason 

individuals who may happen to illustrate it. For if I read him 
aright, the redheadedness embodied in Frederick Barbarossa is 
regarded by him to have a ‘‘real or ultimate nature’^ which is 
different from the nature of redheadedness embodied in one of 
Barbarossa’s ancestors. And if this is so, in what sense is the red- 
headedness Mr. Blanshard is discussing a universal, and in what 
way are his remarks relevant to the criticism he is nominally dis- 
cussing? 

(c) I have one final point in this connection. Mr. Blanshard is 
presumably considering the question whether all of the relations 
which redheadedness may have to other characters are internal 
to redheadedness. His aim must therefore be to determine whether, 
if an individual A is redheaded, it logically follows that A possesses 
every one of the traits it does in fact possess— for example, that A 
is blue-eyed, brachycephalic, right-handed, and so on. But what 
he is actually discussing is the question whether these other traits 
are causally related to A^s hair being reddish in color. Now while 
it may indeed be the case that the occurrence of redheadedness has 
causal conditions and consequences, it is a complete non sequitur 
to conclude from this fact that the characters causally connected 
with redheadedness are internally related to it— it is a conclusion 
which is warranted only if it can be shown, what thus far Mr. 
Blanshard has not shown, that logical entailment is an essential 
ingredient in all causal relations. 

I must therefore conclude that Mr. Blanshard does not estab- 
lish his claim that the relations of universals are ail internal, whether 
the universals are taken to be concrete or abstract. In particular, 
he presents no plausible reasons for doubting that the demonstra- 
tions contained in the modem literature of logic and mathematics 
concerning the logical independence of various universals do prove 
what they say they do. The challenge that these demonstrations 
offer to the doctrine of internal relations is certainly not a negligible 
one; and one of the strange anomalies of his defense of the doc- 
trine is that he addresses himself to it only incidentally. 

5 * 

I have now examined two of Mr. Blanshard’s three classes of 
arguments for the doctrine of internal relations. There remains 
for consideration his third group, which attempts to find support 



Sovereign Reason [ 287 ] 

for the doctrine in the alleged nature of causal relations. Two 
important claims are made by him in this connection. The first is 
that “all things are causally related, directly or indirectly’’; and 
the second is that “being causally related involves being logically 
related.”^^ I shall, however, not stop to examine the evidence Mr. 
Blanshard offers for the first claim, chiefly because if, as I hope to 
show, his grounds for the second are insufficient to establish it, 
his first claim even if sound would not by itself suffice to prove 
the doctrine of internal relations. Certainly many thinkers have 
held that all things are causally related but have rejected the doc- 
trine without demonstrated inconsistency. 

Three lines of evidence are presented by Mr. Blanshard to show 
that causal connections involve logical necessity. 

(i) In the first he maintains that whenever we engage in de- 
ductive inference, “the fact that the ground entails the conse- 
quent is one of the conditions determining the appearance of this 
consequent rather than something else in the thinker’s mind.”^^ 
Accordingly, the answer to the question “Why does the conclu- 
sion of an argument appear in the mind of a reasoner?” is that 
the thought of the premise, which constitutes the cause (or part 
of the cause) for the occurrence of the thought of the conclu- 
sion, logically necessitates this latter thought. There is therefore 
an element of logical necessity relating the cause and the effect. 

Mr. Blanshard appears to take much stock in this argument, for 
he has used it on more than one occasion to win assent for his 
views. Nevertheless, I find it singularly unimpressive. 

(a) It is not an unfamiliar fact that at least in some cases when 
a man thinks of a premise he subsequently thinks of a proposi- 
tion which, though he believes it to be the logical consequence of 
the premise, is in fact not a valid consequence at all. If we admit 
that in such cases the thought of the premise is a cause (or part of 
the cause) of the thought of the conclusion, we must also admit 
that thoughts may be causally related, though the propositions to 
which these thoughts are addressed do not stand to each other in 
the relation of logical entaihnent. There is therefore some ground 
for believing that the presence of the implicative relation between 


19. /^id,,p.492. 

20. 


4 



[ 288 ] Sovereign Reason 

propositions is not a sine qua non for the alleged causal connection 
between thoughts about those propositions. 

It is also well known that men often entertain propositions with 
a view to deducing conclusions from them but nevertheless fail 
to do so, even though various conclusions may in fact be entailed 
by the premises. Evidently the presence of the implicative relation 
between propositions, therefore, is not a sufficient condition for 
the causal determination of a thought about a conclusion by a 
thought about the premises. 

It sometimes happens, moreover, that each of two men will think 
of a premise and also come to think of a conclusion implied by it, 
where one of the thinkers perceives the logical connection between 
the propositions while the other, luckily hitting upon the conclu- 
sion, does not obtain it by following the chain of logical implica- 
tion. Such a situation is almost ideal for the application of the 
familiar canons of induction; and if we rely on the Method of 
Difference, we must conclude that though the thought of one 
proposition may be the cause (or part of the cause) of the thought 
of a second implied by the first, the relation of implication is not 
an element in the causal transaction. Contrary to Mr. Blanshard’s 
contention, his argument thus supplies no credible reasons for 
supposing that causal connections involve logical necessity. 

(b) There is, however, an even more serious flaw in his argument. 
What is it, we must ask, which is properly characterized as “neces- 
sary” when what is called a “necessary inference” is drawn.^ When, 
for example, we draw the conclusion that Smith is younger than 
Brown from the premise that Brown is older than Smith, is it the in- 
ference which is necessary, or is it the proposition that if Brown is 
older than Smith then Smith is younger than Brown^ The answer is 
clearly in favor of the second alternative. For it is of the proposition^ 
not of the inference, that it is correct to say: it is necessary because it 
is impossible for its antecedent to be true and its consequent false; 
it is not at all impossible for an inference to occur whose ante- 
cedent is true and its consequent false. In characterizing an infer- 
ence as necessary we are thus using an elliptic form of ^eech, and 
the phrase “necessary inference” must be construed as signifying 
the fact that the consequent of a necessary conditional proposition 
is being deduced from its antecedent. 

Accordingly, to argue that the causal relation between the 



Sovereign Keason [ 289 ] 

thought of a premise and the thought of the conclusion (when the 
premise entails the conclusion) involves logical necessity is to 
confuse the thought of a necessary relation with the necessity of 
a thought, it is to confound the nontemporal logical relation of 
entailment or implication with the temporal process of inference 
that recognizes or discovers such implicative relations. 

Mr. Blanshard is not unaware of this apparently fatal objection 
to his argument. But his reply to it is regrettably not to the point 
and succeeds only in raising irrelevant issues. His rejoinder con- 
siders the objection as if the latter rested on the assumption that 
causal connections hold between “mere event [s], endowed with 
no sort of character”, and in opposition to this assumption he 
maintains, quite rightly, that the “contents or characters of events” 
enter into causal processes. He therefore concludes that the logical 
relations between these characters also enter into these processes 
and declares: “In explicit inference we have a process in which we 
can directly see not only that one event succeeds another, but in 
large measure it succeeds.”^^ 

But just what is the pertinence of these remarks to the matter at 
stake^^ For suppose we admit that the thoughts which are said to 
be causally related in inference are not naked events, stripped of 
all characters. It does not follow from this admission alone that 
the logical relations between the objects of those thoughts enter 
into the causal processes involving those thoughts; and it cer- 
tainly does not follow from that admission that it is the thoughts 
as existents, rather than the propositions to which those thoughts 
may be addressed, which logically imply one another. Mr. Blan- 
shard cannot be acquitted of the charge that he is confusing im- 
plication with inference. 

Moreover, is it the case that we do directly see, as Mr. Blanshard 
maintains, vchy in an explicit inference one event follows an- 
other^ Do we see vchy^ when we think of Brown as older than 
Smith, we subsequently think that Smith is younger than Brown? 
It has already been noted that though the first proposition entails 
the second, the thought of the first is not invariably followed by 
the thought of the second; and it is not unreasonable to suppose 
therefore that the causal sequence of such thoughts involves the 

21, Ibid jP 497. 

22. p. 498. 



[ 290 ] Sovereign Reason 

operation of a complicated physiological and psychological mech- 
anism, whose detailed structure and conditions of effective per- 
formance are still only partly understood. Accordingly, there 
seems to be some basis for the suspicion that when Mr, Blanshard 
believes he sees vohy one event in inference is followed by another, 
and not merely that there is such a succession, he is being deceived 
by the happy working of his own body into identifying his 
prehension of necessary relations with an alleged necessity of his 
apprehending those relations. 

(c) There is one other aspect of Mr. Blanshard’s discussion that 
requires brief comment. For he believes that serious consequences 
for morals and the life of reason follow from the denial that logical 
necessity is involved in causal relations; and he declares that “unless 
necessity does play a part in the movement of inference, no argu- 
ment will establish anything, since on the hypothesis that no 
such necessity exists the distinction between being “moved by 
reasons” and being moved by causes is simply an illusion. 

Now, no doubt, all who love the life of the intellect and hate 
brutal unreason will recoil in horror from any philosophy which 
would deny this distinction. But can one retain it only on Mr. 
Blanshard’s terms and only within the framework of his philos- 
ophy? Surely not. Why is it impossible to be moved by reasons 
if the temporal passage from premise to conclusion in a valid 
inference does not involve a relation of logical necessity? A man 
who first notes a premise Ay and then perceives that A logically 
implies B, is moved by reasons when he accepts B on the evidence 
of the premise— even if the causal sequence, the thought of Ay the 
perception of the connection between A and B, the assertion of By 
is a logically contingent one. Such a thinker might not assert B 
did he not perceive the connection between A and B; and his per-- 
ception of this connection is doubtless one of the factors which 
causally determine his thought and acceptance of B. But is there 
any reason for maintaining that if the connection between this 
factor and the effect attributed to it is a logically contingent one, 
its manifest operation is illusory? 

(2) So much for Mr. Blanshard's first argument for the presence 
of logical necessity in causal relations. He next comes to alleged 
cases of such necessity in mental activities other than inference. 

23. Ibidn 



Sovereign Reason [ 291 1 

And he offers as an example of such necessity the proposition that 
all who think lightly of their own deserts are grateftil, in which, 
according to himself, both a causal and a logical connection is 
asserted between low self-esteem and gratefulness for the esteem 
of others.^^ 

As far as I can make out, Mr, Blanshard rests his case that this 
is so on the alleged fact that though “one cannot isolate in human 
nature the precise reciprocating conditions of gratitude, or formu- 
late one’s law in anything better than a statement of tendency,” 
nevertheless “we do have some insight into why the man of low 
self-esteem should be grateful for the esteem of others.”^® He 
therefore cites with approval Ewing’s assertion: 

It seems to me that we can see and to some extent really understand why 
an msult should tend to give rise to anger, why love should lead to grief 
if the object of one’s love die or prove thoroughly unworthy, why a 
success should give pleasure, why the anticipation of physical pain should 
arouse fear. It does seem more reasonable on other than inductive grounds 
to suppose that if A loves B that will tend to make him sorry when B 
dies than to suppose that it will make him intensely glad. 

I will not venture to challenge Mr, Blanshard’s contention that 
in such matters as he mentions he does possess an “insight” into 
the presence of a necessary logical bond, especially since he speci- 
fies no general rules that might serve to define the character of 
that necessity. If he does have the insight, he must be congratu- 
lated on possessing what is surely a rare power. However, Mr, 
Blanshard himself admits that the alleged law connecting low self- 
esteem and gratitude states only a “tendency,” not an invariable 
connection, to which therefore exceptions may (and presumably 
do) occur. And I confess that the sense in which a law expressing 
only such a tendency also expresses a logical necessity is to me 
entirely obscure. 

Moreover, it is surely no news that many men with a low self- 
esteem exhibit an attitude quite the reverse of gratitude for the 
esteem of others, Spinoza had suggested as much, and in the light 
of contemporary psychological investigations the absence of feel- 
ings of gratitude in such cases appears eminently plausible. The 
chief point to note, however, is that whether a certain type of 


24. Ihid^p^soo* 

25. Ibid* 



[ 2^2 ] Sovereign Reason 

human response to an indicated situation appears ‘‘reasonable” and 
“logically necessary” or not, is a function of what theory of human 
nature is explicitly or implicitly assumed. But one must not over- 
look the crucial fact that though many propositions about human 
action may be necessary consequences from the main principles 
of the theory, neither those principles nor those propositions are 
logically necessary truths. For example, Mr. Ewing’s example of 
love for a person leading to grief if that person dies is a theorem 
in Spinoza’s Ethics; but its “necessity” is relative to the postulates 
of this system, postulates which, if they are true, are clearly only 
contingently true. 

Apropos of the suggestion that certain general propositions about 
human actions are “reasonable” inherently and “on other than 
inductive grounds,” I must add the obvious but unfortunately still 
needed reminder that the pages of the history of thought are 
strewn with exploded claims concerning the “necessary” char- 
acter of various “truths” alleged to be revealed to immediate 
vision. The tendency to see something final and necessary in what 
subsequently turns out to be transitory and contingent has been 
no minor hindrance to the development of knowledge, especially 
in the social and moral disciplines. To be sure, Mr. Blanshard’s 
claim to have discovered such logically necessary propositions about 
human actions may meet a better fate than have similar claims by 
countless other men. It is nevertheless curious that such a claim 
should come from one who, in terms of his professed philosophy, 
might be expected to deny that necessity and self-evidence char- 
acterize propositions isolated from their relations to some system 
in which they are elements. 

(3) I turn finally to Mr. Blanshard’s discussion of the question 
whether logical necessity is present even in the causal processes 
found in physical nature, which clearly constitutes what is perhaps 
the most crucial part of the defense of his general thesis. However, 
his discussion is predicated on the assumption that only two views 
as to the nature of causal connections are possible, one represented 
by what is known as the regularity view, the other by the con- 
ception which he himself favors. He therefore devotes his best 
eiforts to a criticism of the regularity view, in the apparent belief 
that if he can exhibit its inadequacy he will thereby have estab- 
lished the validity of his own conception. Unfortunately for the 



Sovereign Reason [ 293 ] 

argument, the two alternative analyses Mr. Blanshard considers 
do not exhaust the possibilities; in fact, a number of contempo- 
rary writers (for example, Cohen, Dewey, Parker, and at one time 
Broad), have offered accounts of causality which are incompatible 
both with the regularity and the entailment views. Accordmgly, 
even if Mr. Blanshard’s reasons for rejecting the regularity view 
were entirely cogent, he would still not have produced compelling 
evidence for adopting his own analysis of causahty. 

In what follows I shall therefore not consider his criticisms of 
the regularity view, and shall restrict myself to examining the 
few grounds he presents for the entailment view. These grounds 
are, I think, just two in number. 

(a) Mr. Blanshard requires of any analysis of causality that it 
be compatible with the fact that successful predictions concerning 
the future can often be made on the basis of past observations on 
the sequences of events. And he maintains that when we predict 
that b will follow a in the future as it has followed in the past, 
there must be a logical bond between a and b which warrants the 
prediction. “Unless a is connected with b by something more than 
mere conjunction,’’ he declares, “there is no ground . . . whatever” 
for the argument from past to future.^® 

It will be admitted, I think, that if aU causes entail their effects, 
and if we knew not only this but also that a specific phenomenon 
a which is suspected of being the cause of b entails the latter, then 
a prediction concerning the future occurrence of b on the strength 
of observing a would be fully warranted. However, if we knew 
only that the entailment view is true but did not know that a 
logically implies b (though events of the type a may have been ob- 
served in the past to be followed by the events of type b)^ we would 
certainly not possess what Mr. Blanshard would regard as rationally 
satisfactory grounds for predicting the future occurrence of b 
as an effect of a. Evidently, therefore, the acceptance of the en- 
tailment view of causality is not sufficient for justifying any par- 
ticular prediction. 

But though some defenders of the entailment view claim to have 
an “insight” into the logical structures of specific causal processes 
in physical nature, Mr. Blanshard makes no such pretensions; he 
modestly limits his own claims to matters pertaining to mental 


26. p. 507. 



[ 294 ^ Sovereign Reason 

actions. And there is little doubt that most men who venture to 
predict physical occurrences also lack such insight. What then 
can the entadment view of causality, assuming that it is the correct 
view, offer to Mr. Blanshard and the rest of mankind in the way 
of a ^'rational justification” of predictive inferences? Must not he, 
like everybody else, fall back upon the evidence provided by past 
conjunctions of characteristics to support the hypothesis that they 
may be causally related? Is he any better off in this respect than 
are those who subscribe to the regularity view of causality? Must 
we not conclude that the entailment view contributes nothing 
toward advancing the aims of specific inquiries into the causal 
dependencies of physical nature, that it provides no rational foun- 
dation for the successful predictions that are often made, and that 
therefore Mr. Blanshard’s present line of reasoning supplies no 
support for the entailment view? 

(b) Mr. Blanshard’s remaining argument for the entailment view 
rests upon a consideration of general statements about causality 
(such as the maxim ‘'Same cause, same effect”), rather than upon 
a study of specific causal propositions (such as that the earth’s 
rotation is the cause of day and night). He maintains that we can 
safely assert such general propositions about causality because we 
possess an “insight” that justifies our doing so. This insight con- 
sists in recognizing that “when a is said to produce x in virtue of 
its nature as the connection referred to is not only an intrinsic 
relation but a necessary relation.”^'^ And as he goes on to explain, 
“To say that a produces x in virtue of being a and yet that, given 
X might not follow, is inconsistent with the laws of identity and 
contradiction.” For is not a mere “cluster of qualities abstracted 
from their relations”; on the contrary, 

d^s behavior is the outgrowth or expression of ^’s nature. And to assert 
that ds behavior, so conceived, could be different while a was the same 
would be to assert that sometiung both did and did not issue from the 
nature of a. And that is self-contradiction. The statement would also 
. . . conflict with the law of identity. It implies that a thing may remain 
itself when you have stripped from it everything which it is such as 
to be and do. To strip it of these things would be to strip it, so to speak, 
of the suchness that makes it what it is, i.e., to say that it is other than 
it is.^ 


27 . 

28 , Ibid^pp. 



Sovereig 7 i Reason [ 295 ] 

Old acquaintances thus greet us once more, the puzzle as to 
what is to be included in a thing and the obscure notion of a 
thing’s nature. Let us make one final effort to penetrate mto these 
mysteries, by applying Mr. Blanshard’s present argument to the 
proposition that Brutus caused the death of Caesar. On that argu- 
ment, Brutus’ action was the outgrowth of Brutus’ special nature, 
and to suppose that Brutus had not acted as he in fact did would 
be to strip him of the “suchness” that made him what he was. The 
argument thus requires us to say that the compound proposition, 
Brutus did cause the death of Caesar but it is nevertheless logi- 
cally possible for Brutus not to have done so, is logically impos- 
sible More briefly and generally, Mr. Blanshard’s position as 
revealed by the present argument reduces to this: every true prop- 
osition which imputes a causal action to Brutus is logically neces- 
sary. 

This is certainly an amazing conclusion. But is it true? It can be 
shown to be true if, and only if, the individual Brutus is conceived 
as including every possible attribute that may be truly predicated 
of him, while at the same time the nature of Brutus is equated with 
the total set of characters Brutus is thus made to include. In short, 
it can be shown to be true only by a violent redefinition of the 
expressions “individual” and “the nature of an individual.” But as 
I have tried to show earlier, by this device Mr. Blanshard’s entire 
thesis is reduced to a trivial tautology. 

I therefore conclude that Mr. Blanshard’s heroic efforts in be- 
half of the doctrine of internal relations have failed of their in- 
tended objective. He has not succeeded in showing that contin- 
gency is not an irreducible feature of the world, and in urging upon 
men an ideal of reason which ignores this character of things he 
must be judged as an advocate of a false and irrelevant ideal. The 
vision he has called up of the scope and office of human reason is 
not without grandeur and inspiring power, and its insistence on 
system and rational order reveals its sources in human aspirations. 
But like all visions which feed on uncontrolled and exaggerated 
hopes and fancies, it is a vision that cannot permanently serve to 
guide the energies of sober men. 



i6 


The Perspectives of Science and 
The Prospects of Men 


Th^ ARE TWO MODES in which human life is influenced by new 
developments in theoretical science. Since the beginnings of sys- 
tematic inquiry in classical antiquity, advances in fundamental 
knowledge have prepared the way for a more effective practical 
mastery of the environment; and the technological innovations to 
which they frequently give rise— in agriculture, industry, medicine, 
or warfare— have produced radical transformations in traditional 
patterns of social living. This aspect of science is now a common- 
place in the writings of modem historians and students of human 
affairs. It is certainly not neglected in recent popular literature on 
the wonders wrought by present-day inventions. Indeed, many 
distinguished scientists with an attentive eye on the ultimate source 
of financial support for pure research are now stressing the practical 
fruits often gathered from investigations which initially do not 

[ 296 ] 



The Perspectives of Science [ 297 ] 

promise such a harvest, and the utilitarian values of science un- 
doubtedly loom large in the minds of those who today eventually 
foot the staggering costs of modern research. However, there is a 
second and less publicized way in which scientific developments 
affect men’s lives: by challenging established beliefs about the 
cosmos and its parts, and inducing emendations in habitual modes 
of thought. Revisions of ancient creeds and alterations in intellectual 
habits are not exclusively the products of major theoretical revolu- 
tions like those of Newton and Darwin, they may also be called 
forth by relatively minor additions to knowledge like those asso- 
ciated with voyages of exploration and the study of ancient or 
primitive cultures. The flood of books and articles in our own day 
on the bearing of current scientific discoveries upon inherited con- 
ceptions of nature and man is visible testimony to this aspect of the 
impact of science on human life. 

Although there are different channels through which scientific 
developments exert their influence, changes in knowledge eventu- 
ally lead to a re-examination of the ideals which express man’s basic 
aspirations, of the principles by which men evaluate their actions, 
and of the methods which men employ in deciding between alterna- 
tive moral claims. Technological innovations of any magnitude often 
make it difficult, if not impossible, to continue customary modes of 
conduct; and they may produce fashions of living that are not 
congruous with, or are not envisaged by, traditional moral ideals. 
Moreover, though new theoretical and factual discoveries do not 
always introduce any overt changes in social practice, they may 
nevertheless become highly pertinent in the evaluation of social 
policy and in the justification of moral attitudes. An ideal of human 
life which seems eminently reasonable on one set of factual assump- 
tions may be utterly without cogency when viewed in the per- 
spective of altered scientific conclusions. Accordingly, an integrated 
system of moral commitments can be disrupted by developments 
in science, and, individually as well as collectively, men are some- 
times made distraught by felt incompatibilities between traditional 
moral standards and new advances in knowledge. Reflective men 
are thus perennially confronted with a threefold task of criticism: 
of clarifying the bearing of trends in scientific inquiry upon perva- 
sive conceptions of man’s place in nature; of making explicit the 
intellectual methods by which responsibly held beliefs are achieved; 



[ 298 ] Sovereign Reason 

and of interpreting inherited beliefs and institutions in the light of 
current additions to knowledge— aU this, in order to exhibit the 
enduring wisdom which may be embodied in them. 

It has been the traditional office of philosophy, whether lay or 
professional, to contribute to this difficult task. Professional philos- 
ophers frequently engage in heated debate concerning the subject 
matter and the problems that are proper to their discipline. Al- 
though their conclusions are often in sharp disagreement with each 
other, the record of history leaves little room for doubt as to what 
in the main their ultimate concern has been. Indeed, even the recur- 
rent disputes over the legitimate scope and method of philosophy 
illustrate the conception of philosophy as a critical commentary 
on science, and as a continuing interpretation of human experience 
in the perspective of fresh scientific achievements. It is certainly a 
striking fact that some of the most brilliant periods in the history 
of Western philosophy coincide with eras during which frontiers 
of knowledge were being pushed back vigorously. It is hardly an 
accident that the flowering of philosophic thought in Greek an- 
tiquity came on the heels of fundamental discoveries in mathe- 
matics and biology; that the influential speculative and critical 
philosophies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were pro- 
duced during the decades which saw the rise and consolidation of 
modem physical science; or that the ambitious philosophies of evo- 
lution in the nineteenth century were developed at a time when 
knowledge of the human past as well as of the history of other 
forms of organic life was being rapidly expanded. The adequacy 
of these various philosophies as systems of warranted truth is a 
matter of controversy, upon which general agreement is hardly 
likely in the foreseeable future. These systems, nevertheless, exhibit 
the historical role of philosophy as the examination of the signifi- 
cance of science for human weal and woe; and this role is easily 
discerned in the literature of contemporary philosophy as well In 
a readily identifiable sense, all of philosophy has been, and con- 
tinues to be, a critique of science. And while what is today com- 
monly designated as the philosophy of science is the investigation 
of a loosely defined set of special problems, the boundaries of the 
philosophy of science are in fact the boundaries of philosophy itself. 

For several decades, however, in Western Europe and America, 
philosophical reflection on science has been largely directed to logi- 



The Perspectives of Science [ 299 ] 

cal and methodological issues generated both by the remarkable 
theoretical innovations of physical science and by new approaches 
in the study of human society. These developments have not only 
upset deeply rooted certainties concerning the structure of the 
physical universe and the behavior of the human individual; they 
have also compelled a re-examination of supposedly firm critena 
of intelligibility and the grounds of cognitive certitude. Euclidean 
geometry has been displaced from its age-old status as the only 
conceivable foundation for a comprehensive theory of nature. A 
system of chronometry has been introduced which is sharply at 
variance with customary notions of temporal order. Apparently 
cogent reasons have been found for curtailing the scope of regula- 
tive and constitutive principles, like those of causality and con- 
tinuity, which have long been regarded as paradigms of absolute 
universality and necessity. Evidence has accumulated for concep- 
tions concerning the springs of human action which are deeply 
disturbing to widely held assumptions about the basis of human 
rationality and responsible action. And comprehensive theoretical 
explanations of newly discovered phenomena have become current 
which, despite their enormous success in accounting for detailed 
facts, postulate an executive order of nature that seems alien to 
human experience and appears paradoxical even to expertly skilled 
scientists. 

It is not altogether surprising that intellectual changes of the 
magnitude here only briefly indicated have found interpreters who 
see in the latest findings of science renewed grounds for comfort- 
ing superstitutions, or who defend in the very name of science itself 
creeds to which the use of a disciplined but free intelligence is 
basically hateful. If such interpretations seem plausible to many, 
this is partly because scientiks have in the main failed to clarify for 
themselves as well as for others the actual content of their new 
theories and the rationale of their inteUectual methods. Indeed, 
distinguished workers in the sciences have themselves sometimes 
supplied commentaries on current reorientations in scientific theory 
that are at best examples of uncontrolled fancy, and are frequently 
exercises in obscurantism. This situation is not quite as anomalous 
as it may appear at first glance. To be sure, skill and understanding 
are at their best, as Santayana noted, when they adorn the same 



[ 300 ] Sovereign Reason 

mind. Nor is there much doubt that perhaps the most illuminating 
analyses of scientific achievements and procedure have been made 
by philosophical-minded practicing scientists. What is loosely 
called “scientific method,” however, is generally a habit of work- 
manship that skilled investigators possess, and not a codified set of 
principles which they exphcitly acknowledge. Those who are suc- 
cessfully engaged in specialized research usually show no serious 
interest m methodological analysis which does not contribute di- 
rectly to the solution of specific research tasks. Their philosophy of 
science is often hardly more than the echo of philosophic ideas 
uncritically acquired during their early schooling. There is little 
agreement among scientific workers on the broad significance of 
their theories or on the logic of their procedure, despite their re- 
markable virtuosity in handling complex intellectual tools, and in 
striking contrast to the eventual unanimity which they achieve on 
solutions for specific technical problems. There are, indeed, no 
uniform standards of competent workmanship, whether among 
scientists or professional philosophers, which control the analysis 
of such matters. There is still lacking a generally adequate tech- 
nique for unravelling the enormously complex maze of symbolism 
involved in the construction and the use of scientific theory. 

The symbolic nature of scientific theory is certainly not a recent 
discovery. Nevertheless, the subtle and indirect ways in which 
theories function as schemata of representation have not been 
widely noted or appreciated until fairly recently. A century ago, 
it was common to think of a theory— even a theory in physics— as 
an inductive generalization derived by abstraction from directly 
observed occurrences. A theory was assumed to be simply a com- 
pact description of regularities that obtain between phenomena. 
The successful development of theories which ostensibly postulate 
inherently unobservable entities and processes made evident the 
superficiality of this account. For a time the view then became 
prevalent that postulations of “unobservables” are nothing but con- 
venient though fictional modes of speech. This amended version of 
the “simple description” notion of theory became incredible, how- 
ever, when impressive experimental evidence was found for the 
“reality” of molecules, atoms, electrons, and the like. Many think- 
ers have therefore concluded that the fundamental theories of 



The Perspectives of Science [ 301 ] 

modern physics and chemistry are about an order of things and 
events that are existentially and causally prior to the things and 
events encountered in daily life. 

The unobservable but basic entities of nature, however, osten- 
sibly possess few if any of the traits that characterize the objects 
of familiar experience. Moreover, they seem in many respects to 
be incommensurably unlike the latter. The relation of the “world” 
of gross experience to the “world” disclosed by physics thus be- 
came an acute problem. Some writers resolved it by relegating one 
or the other of these “worlds” to a realm of metaphysical appear- 
ance. Others sought to overcome it by construing the postulated 
scientific objects in terms of the categories of human experience, 
and thereby clothing the unobservable entities of physics with 
properties analogous to those distinctive of the human organism. 
Still others solved it by postulating a progressive evolution or 
emergence of levels of being. But the proposed solutions raise more 
issues than they settle, and they are all based on the dubious assump- 
tion that each constituent part of a theory is the intellectual image 
of an identifiable item in the subject matter of mqury. On this 
assumption a theory is therefore a description of some fixed realm 
of ultimate fact. But the assumption simply ignores the complex 
structure of theoretical symbolism. Those who make this assump- 
tion fail to appreciate the flexible uses of theoretical expressions, 
the variety of special meanings which are associated with them in 
different contexts of inquiry, the multiple regulative roles which 
theories play, or the different logical functions which grammatically 
similar statements may possess. These matters are more fully under- 
stood at present. Contemporary philosophy of science has succeeded 
in dispelling much of the mystery that is produced when the ellip- 
tic formulations of mathematical physics are construed in a myopi- 
cally literal manner. 

Indeed, much of the recent literature of the philosophy of science 
is a self-conscious attempt at articulating modes of symbolic sig- 
nification, and a search for effective cnteria of meamngful dis- 
course. This search is often controlled by the therapeutic objective 
of eliminating pseudo-problems both withm science proper and in 
the philosophic interpretations of science. In the pursuit of this 
objective, variants of Charles Peirce’s “pragmatic maxim” for mak- 
ing our ideas clear have played a prominent role. According to that 



[ 302 ] Sovereign Reason 

maxim, our conception of an object of thought consists entirely 
of the “practical” bearings which we suppose that object to have. 
The adoption of the maxim leads, on the one hand, to the rejection 
as spunous of many allegedly profound puzzles raised by com- 
mentators on science, and, on the other hand, to the detailed study 
of scientific formulations in terms of the concrete procedures and 
habits of usage that alone invest them with significance. Peirce him- 
self noted, for example, that the term “force” in physics does not 
represent a “mysterious entity,” as was commonly believed by 
many of his contemporaries. On the contrary, the term is com- 
pletely understood when its role in the equations of physics is made 
explicit, and when the use in inquiry of those equations is indicated. 
It is therefore absurd to claim, as many eminent scientists have 
done, that while we may understand the effects of force we do not 
understand what force itself is. Many thinkers in Europe and Amer- 
ica, in many instances without having been exposed to the influence 
of Peirce’s writings, have adopted his maxim in a variety of forms. 
They have extended the type of analysis he proposed for the notion 
of force to a large number of other ideas in physics, biology, psy- 
chology, and social science. In consequence, fundamental contribu- 
tions have been made not only to the clarification of specific theo- 
retical concepts, but also to the understanding of the structure and 
operation of scientific symbolism in general. 

It must be acknowledged, however, that oversimplified versions 
of the Peircean maxim have gained wide currency, and that injudi- 
cious use of them has frequently darkened counsel. Many contem- 
porary writers have supposed that a criterion of meaning contains 
in capsule form the solutions for all mortal ills, and in consequence 
they have made grotesque claims for their approach to the anal- 
ysis of scientific discourse. Other writers have espoused simple- 
minded tests of significance, and have shown themselves insensi- 
tive to the influence of context upon the meaning and function of 
statements. They have thereby been compelled to classify as species 
of “nonsense” nearly all statements of science. But in spite of the 
quantity of material, incompetent, trivial, and irrelevant, that has 
been published in consequence, there has been substantial achieve- 
ment as well. In the hands of analysts competently familiar with 
the actual operations of scientific inquiry and with the role played 
in it by theoretical constructions, the Peircean maxim in some of 



The Perspectives of Science [ 303 1 

its variant forms has undoubtedly been an instrument of genuine 
illumination. 

It is diiEcult to exaggerate in this connection the far-reaching 
and salutary influence of the theory of relativity upon current 
philosophy of science. For the Einsteinian critique of classical 
mechanics called attention to the importance of construmg scien- 
tific notions by way of the actual operations which control them 
range of application; and it made impressively clear that apparently 
significant statements often possess no physical content, precisely 
because crucial terms occurring in them are associated with no 
specified procedures of application. Einstein’s analysis also made 
evident that the construction of a theory involves, among other 
things, a series of decisions between alternate modes of representing 
and organizing relevant features of a subject matter— for example, 
in the case of mechanics, decisions between alternate geometries 
and alternate chronometries. Such decisions are logically arbitrary, 
since they are not implied by experimental data; they can never- 
theless be evaluated in the hght of their effectiveness in systematiz- 
ing fields of inquiry. Furthermore, the theory of relativity reveals 
unmistakably that when the range of application of a scientific 
symbol is enlarged, the symbol may undergo fundamental changes 
in meaning. This has been the history of such terms as “mass” and 
“energy” in physics, “species” and “image” in biology and psy- 
chology, and “class” and “property” in social science. Subtle anal- 
ogies may control the process of enlarging the scope of application 
of a symbol. Nevertheless, it is in general a blunder to interpret the 
more inclusive use of an expression in terms of its initially more 
restricted meaning. It is this blunder which underlies much of the 
alleged “unintelligibility” commonly attributed to modem physics. 
These methodological observations are, however, pertinent for the 
understanding not merely of a special physical theory but of all 
theoretical constructions. They have rendered valuable service to 
thinkers seeking to develop a generalized account of knowledge 
that is founded on the reahties of scientific procedure and on the 
actual character of scientific explanation. 

The classical conception of scientific knowledge was formed 
under the influence of demonstrative geometry as traditionally 
taught, and rests on three fundamental assumptions: Genuine scien- 
tific knowledge is demonstrative knowledge, and science seeks to 



[ 304 ] Sovereign Reason 

“save the phenomena” by exhibiting the events and regularities of 
nature as consequences of universal truths. Secondly, since every 
demonstration must start from premises which are not themselves 
demonstrable, there must be transparently luminous universal truths 
which the intellect can grasp as self-evident. Thirdly, if the par- 
ticulars of sense are to be truly explained, the basic premises of a 
science must be necessary truths, which are better known and more 
certain than anything explained by them. These assumptions have 
dominated scientific, philosophic, and popular thought since an- 
tiquity. For example, it was a widespread supposition a half- 
century ago that the axioms of Newtonian mechanics conform to 
the classical requirements for the first principles of a science. The 
discovery soon thereafter that the Newtonian system is not fully 
adequate to the facts therefore appeared to a number of com- 
mentators as a symptom of “the bankruptcy of science.” 

Many thinkers continue to demand of genuine knowledge the 
characteristics postulated by the classical ideal of science. The first 
requirement in that ideal undoubtedly does represent a permanent 
though partial objective of scientific research. But the remaining 
components in that ideal are not, and cannot be, achieved by the 
actual methods of any positive inquiry. Contemporary analyses of 
the kind previously mentioned have shown, for example, that a 
theory is never uniquely determined by any set of empirical data, 
however numerous and varied these may be. Alternate explanations 
are always possible in principle; and the supposition that a unique 
explanatory principle is embedded in the phenomena, and shines 
forth to the attentive intellect, is therefore radically mistaken. It 
follows that scientific research is not a passive beholding and codify- 
ing of self-evident structures in things. On the contrary, the con- 
struction of theories, like the construction of works of art, makes 
serious demands upon powers of imagination and invention. Scien- 
tists have repeatedly noted the “free creation of concepts” embodied 
in their theoretical foundations. As one of them has remarked, the 
work of Newton, Leverrier, Maxwell, and Hertz “was an expres- 
sion of their personality Just as surely as the work of Giotto, of 
Shakespeare, or of Bach,” This does not mean that the scientist is 
a demiurge who creates the things he studies. It does mean that an 
explanatory theory is but one among several possible techniques for 
representing and analyzing systematically an indefinitely large set 



The Perspectives of Science [ 305 ] 

of specific processes. When a scientific theory is constructed in 
terms of its functions m inquiry, the supposition that the funda- 
mental principles of a science can be established by appeals to self- 
evidence is thus not even plausible. Indeed, the traditional concep- 
tion of the relation between a theory and the facts it explains must 
be partially reversed. A theory does make “intelhgible” the occur- 
rences of nature by indicating their interrelations. Nevertheless, 
the theory is itself “mtelhgible” not because of its seh-luminous 
necessity and certainty, but because of the manner in which it 
analyzes and organizes the concrete facts of experience. In short, 
abstract theory and matters of observation mutually clarify each 
other. If it is a task of science to “save the phenomena” by mabng 
them intelligible in the fight of a theory, it is equally its task to 
“save the abstracta” by making them intelligible in the light of the 
phenomena they coordinate. Maxwell’s electro-magnetic theory, 
for example, explains a host of electrical, magnetic, and opncal 
phenomena. But the content of the theory becomes clear only 
when it is understood how its equations are employed for directing 
specific inquiries and for interpreting matters of observation. 

One important outcome of this altered view of scientific knowl- 
edge is a correspondingly altered conception of the grounds of 
scientific certitude. Neither the first principles of a science nor the 
formulations of concrete happemngs are incorrigible. And if the 
findings of science are reliable, they are reliable neither because 
they follow from necessarily true basic premises nor because they 
are derivable from indubitable data of observation. What does 
support claims to warranted knowledge is the use of a general 
method (or logic) for establishing a particular claim. Inquiries 
into different subject matters employ different special techniques 
of investigation, but underlying them all is a common pattern of 
procedure for gathering, interpreting and evaluating evidence. A 
distinctive feature of this method is its doubly self-corrective char- 
acter. No conclusion of an inquiry is exempt from the challenge 
of further inquiry, provoked perhaps by doubts raised because of 
new theoretical constructions or fresh experimental data. And every 
schema for evaluating the weight of evidence is subject to revision, 
if further analysis should reveal that the use of a given schema leads 
to conclusions which are too frequently undependable. The quest 
for certainty is perhaps an inherent aspect of the scientific enter- 



[ 3o6 ] Sovereign Reason 

prise. But current clarifications of the self-corrective method of 
science have made evident that scientific certitude cannot be equated 
with infallibility. The reliability of a scientific conclusion, it is 
now clear, is a function of the thorougliness with which it has been 
tested by methods that on repeated appKcation yield conclusions 
in good agreement with observed fact. While any given claim to 
knowledge may be mistaken, some claims are better warranted than 
others; but the warrant itself ultimately derives from the character 
of the general policy which science adopts for evaluating all claims. 

Considerations such as these have contributed to the formation 
of a naturalistic conception of human reason and scientific intelli- 
gence. Scientific knowledge does not depend on the possession of 
an esoteric capacity for grasping the necessary structure of some 
superior reality, nor does it require modes of warranting beliefs 
which are discontinuous with operations of thought, identifiable 
and effective in the ordmary affairs of human life. The achieve- 
ments of science are the products of a cooperative social enterprise, 
which has refined and extended skills encountered in the meanest 
employments of the human intellect. The principles of human 
reason, far from representing the immutable traits of all possible 
being, are socially cultivated standards of competent intellectual 
workmanship. The life of reason as embodied in the community of 
scientific effort is thus a pattern of life that generates an autonomous 
yet controlling ideal. That ideal requires disciplined dedication 
without servitude to any ultimate authority, imposes responsibility 
for performance upon individual judgment but demands respon- 
siveness to the criticism of others, and calls for adherence to a 
tradition of workmanship without commitment to any system of 
dogma. To many commentators, the ideals realized in the enter- 
prise of science are also the ideals which are indispensable to the 
successful operation of any society of free men. Many thinkers, 
indeed, like John Dewey in America, have based their hopes for 
the future of mankind upon the extension of the habits of scien- 
tific intelligence to every stratum of communal life and to every 
form of social organization. 

Philosophers often suppose themselves to possess avenues to truth 
—truth which is not accessible to the empirically controlled analytic 
methods of the sciences. Certainly no shortage exists today of 
oracular metaphysical pronouncements on the spiritual foundations 



The Perspectives of Science [ ^07 ] 

of the universe or on the ultimate nature and destiny of human 
effort. It is not difficult to perceive the reasons why, in a period of 
acute social tension such as ours, there should be large audiences 
for philosophies that thrive on obscurantism and which see the 
shape of things through a glass clouded by anguish and fear. To 
those who seek from philosophy assurance that life is worth living 
or that the universe is mindful of human aspirations, contemporary 
philosophy of science has on the whole nothing significant to say. 
On the other hand, it has had an unmistakable Muence on the 
development of new approaches in Anglo-American psychology 
and social science; and it has made an impress on a substantial ma- 
jority of Anglo-American philosophers, even when them chief con- 
cerns are only peripherally related to the analysis of science. A 
comparison of current philosophical writing in English-speaking 
countries with similar publications a half-century ago, reveals a 
greater responsiveness today to the requirements of clarity and 
cogency than was customary then. There is now a diminished ten- 
dency to fall back on a priori methods for settling issues that can 
be resolved, if they can be resolved at all, only by experimental 
trial and factual study. There is less reliance today on outmoded 
conceptions of scientific procedure in discussions on the theory of 
knowledge. There is a greater awareness at present of the dangers 
implicit in using debatable or half-digested conclusions of factual 
inquiry as foundation stones for comprehensive systems of political 
and ethical theory. And greater caution is now practiced when 
current findings about physical or biological processes are invoked 
to decide issues in moral and aesthetic analysis. 

These are in the main negative achievements for which contem- 
porary philosophy of science is in part responsible. But it can also 
be credited with an invaluable positive achievement, quite apart 
from its detailed contributions to the clarification of scientific pro- 
cedures. For it has given vigorous support and expression to an 
attitude, at once critical and experimental, toward the perennial as 
well as the current issues of human life; and it has thereby been a 
champion of the central values of liberal civilization. The basis for 
a general outlook on the place of man in nature is supplied by de- 
tailed knowledge of the structure of things supplied by the special 
sciences— an outlook that contemporary philosophy of science has 
helped to articulate and defend. In the perqjecdve of that outlook. 



[ 3o8 ] Sovereign Reason 

the human creature is not an autonomous empire in the vast en- 
tanglement of events and forcps constituting the human environ- 
ment. Nevertheless, no antecedent limits can be set to the power 
of scientific reason to acquire theoretical mastery over natural and 
social processes. Every doctrine which pretends to set such limits 
contains within itself the seeds of intolerance and repression. More- 
over, in the perspective of that scientifically grounded outlook, 
human aspirations are expressions of impulses and needs which, 
whether these be native or acquired, constitute the ultimate point 
of reference for every justifiable moral judgment. The adequacy 
of such aspirations must therefore be evaluated in terms of the 
structures of human capacities and the order of human preferences. 
Accordingly, though the forces of nature may one day extinguish 
the human scene, those forces do not define valid human ideals, 
and they do not provide the measure of human achievement. But 
an indispensable condition for the just definition and the realiza- 
tion of those ideals is the employment and extension of the method 
of intelligence embodied in the scientific enterprise. A judicious 
confidence m the power of reason to ennoble the human estate may 
seem shallow to an age in which, despite the dominant position in 
it of scientific technology, there is a growing and pervasive dis- 
trust of the operations of free intelligence. It may indeed be the 
case that the temper of mind essential to the exercise of such intel- 
ligence has no immediate social future. But the cultivation of that 
intellectual temper is a fundamental condition for every liberal 
civilization. By making manifest the nature of scientific reason and 
the grounds for a continued confidence in it, contemporary philos- 
ophy of science has been a servant of men’s noblest and most 
relevant ideals. 



Bibliographical 

Note 


“Malicious Philosophies of Science” was first published in Fartisan Re- 
view^ Vol. X, January-February 1943. 

“Recent Philosophies of Science” was fibrst published in The Kenyon 
Review, VoL III, Summer 1941. 

“Philosophy and the American Temper” was first published in Modern 
Review, Vol, I, October 1947, It was written for a European audi- 
ence, and appeared in a French translation in the Chromque des 
Mtats-Unis, a bi-monthly publication of the American Office of In- 
formation m Paris, in April 1947. 

The first four parts of “Charles Peirce’s Guesses at the Riddle” were 
published under that title in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol XXX, 
July 1933. Parts five and six were published m Vol XXXI, 1934, 
and part seven in Vol XXXIII, 1936, of the same Jour?iaL 

“Charles S, Peirce, Pioneer of Modern Empiricism” was published in 
Philosophy of Science, Vol 7, 1940. It was read at the Fifth Inter- 
national Congress for the Unity of Science, Harvard University, 
Sept, 8, 1939. 

“Dewey’s Theory of Natural Science” appeared in the symposium vol- 
ume John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom (edited by 
Sidney Hook), New York, The Dial Press, 1950, 

“Dewey’s Reconstruction of Logical Theory” appeared in the sym- 
posium volume The Philosophy of the Common Man (edited by 
Sidney Ratner), New York, G. P, Putnam’s Sons, 1940, 

[309] 



[ 310 ] Bibliographical Note 

Part one of “Reflections on Some Logical and Metaphysical Themes in 
Dewey’s Philosophy” appeared in The Journal of Philosophy, VoL 
XXXVI, 1939; part two appeared in Voi. XXXIX, 1942, of that 
Journal 

Part one of “Alfred North Whitehead” appeared in The Nation, VoL 
166, 1948; part two appeared m The Symposium, VoL I, July 1930. 

“RusseU’s Philosophy of Science” was published in the symposium vol- 
ume The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (edited by Paul Arthur 
Schilpp), Evanston and Chicago, Northwestern University, 1944, 
and New York, Tudor Publishmg Company. 

“Mr. Russell on Meaning and Truth” was published in The Journal of 
Philosophy, VoL XXXVEII, 1941. 

“The Basis of Human Knowledge” was published in The Nation, VoL 
169, 1949. 

Part one of “Eddington’s Philosophy of Physical Science” was pub- 
lished in The Symposium, VoL I, January 1930;. part two was pub- 
lished in The Journal of Philosophy, VoL XXXVII, 1940. 

“Probability and the Theory of Knowledge” was published in Philos- 
ophy of Science, VoL 6, April 1939. AU but the first paragraph of 
the long footnote ro appeared in The Journal of Philosophy, VoL 
XL VII, 1950. 

“Sovereign Reason” was published in the symposium volume Freedo?n 
and Experience (edited by Sidney Hook and Milton R. Konvitz), 
Ithaca and New York, Cornell University Press, 1947. 

“The Perspectives of Science and the Prospects of Men” was published 
in Perspectives USA, Number Seven, Spring 1954. 


Acknowledgment for permission to reprint these essays is gratefully 
made to the journals and publishers mentioned. 



Index 


Abstractions, role in knowledge, 
22; relation to gross experience, 
10, 13, 20, 37, 96, 124, 128, 151 ff., 
171 

Abstract universals, 281 
Actuality, as mental stuff, 43, 

216 ff. 

Alcibiades, 274 

American philosophy, Chap. 3 
Analogy, role in extending appli- 
cation of symbols, 303 
Ammistic interpretation of nature, 

153 

Aristotle, 36, 67 

Atomic sentences, 196, 199, 201 

Ayer, A. J., 192 

Bach, J. S., 304 
Bacon, Francis, 116 
Balfour, Arthur J., 24 
Barbarossa, 286 


Berkeley, George, 44, 179, 220 
Blanshard, Brand, 25n, Chap. 15 
Bolzano, B., 96 
Boole, George, 92 
Bradley, F. H., 156 
Brahe, Tycho, 2 38n 
Broad, C. D., 293 
Brouwer, L. E. J , 59 

Campbell, Norman R., 46, i7on, 
i86n 

Carnap, Rudolf, 46, 95, 188 
Cartesian doubt, 67, 93, 202 
Categonai analysis, ii, 14, 42 
Categories, Peirce's, 60 ff.; White- 
head’s, 155 S, 

Causal theory, of perception, 173 
ff., 191 ff., of truth, 193-7, 201 ff., 
207 

Causality, and logical necessity, 
287-95 


[jti] 



[ 312 ] 

Certainty, lo, 253 ff., 259 ff., 305; 

and inference, 174 ff. 

Cohen, M. R., 46, 293 
Coherence theory of truth, 270 
Common sense, and theoretical 
physics, 3B, 48, 102, 104 
Common-sensism, critical, 97 
Comte, A., 90 
Concrete universals, 281 
Construction vs, inference, 16 1 ff., 
212 

Contextual analysis, 46-9, 105, 143 
Contextualistic naturalism, 52-7 
Contingency, 63 ff., 87, 149, 276, 
295 

Continuity, of man and nature, 62 
ff., 1 15, 155 ff. 

Coulomb, C. D., 240 

Darwin, Charles, 297 
Darwiman theory, and mechanism, 

23 

Deductive inference, and causality, 
287 ff. 

Definitional truths, m physics, 43, 
186 ff. 

Degree of confirmation, 243 n, 246, 
247, 248 

Descartes, R., 6on 
Descriptive view of science, 300 
Determinism, 23 

Dewey, John, 14, 16, 46, 93, Chap. 
6, Chap. 7, Chap. 8, i73n, i87n, 
293, 306 

Dialectical materialism, 45-6 
Diderot, D., 139 
Duhem, P., 15, 46, 76 

Eddington, A. S., 38, 42-5, i86n, 
i88n, Chap. 13 

Einstein, A., 46, 105, 244n, 303 
Emergence, 25-6, 65 ff. 


Index 

Epistemological dualism, 191 ff., 
263 

Euclid, 122, 123 
Euler, L., 84, 139 
Evolutionary biology, 125 
Ewing, A. C, 291, 292 
Experience, and reason, 120 ff., 
128, 144 

Explanation, 24 ff., 29 ff., 66, 269 
ff., 304 

External world, problem of, 14, 
173 ff., 212, 248 ff. 

Fallibilism, 70 ff., 83, 97, 130, 306 
Formal logic, renaissance of, 122 
ff. 

Foucault, J. B. L., 9 in 
Fourier, no 
Frank, Phillip, 90 

Galileo, 23, 910, 216, 239, 240, 241 
Gauss, K. F., 9 m 
Generic and universal proposi- 
tions, 144 ff. 

Genetic fallacy, 132, 144 
Gilson, E., 27, 30 
Giotto, 304 

Haldane, J. B. S., 46 
Hamilton, Wm. R., 163 
Harvey, Wm., 116 
Hepl, G. W. F., 45, 153 
Heisenberg, W., 148, 149 
Helmholtz, H., 15 
Hempel, C. G., 229n 
Hertz, H., 15, 304 
Hierarchy of languages, 195 
Hilbert, D., 59, 740, 167, 169 
Historical materialism, 51 
Hooke, Robert, 187 
Hosiasson, Janina, 229n 
Hume, D., 230, 271 
Husserl, E., 59, 6on 



Index 

Idealistic interpretation of physics, 
216 if. 

Immediate knowledge, 107, 199 if., 
212 if. 

Individual, 275 

Individuahty, and physical theory, 
148 

Induction, 78 if., 213 if., 230, 238 if. 
Inducuve inference, and causality, 
293 ff. 

Inference, 178; its justification, 213 
if. 

Internal relations, 152, 157 if., 271- 

295 

James, Wm., 46, 53, 89, 93 
Johnson, Dr,, 179, 180 
Justification of induction, 98, 214 
if , 239 if., 306 

Kant, L, 44, 61, 86, 90, 220 
Kepler, J., 216, 238n, 239, 241 
Keynes, J. M., 80 
Kirchhoif, G., 93 
Knight, Frank, 32n 
Knowledge, immediate, 107, 199, 
212, outcome of inquiry, 114, 
125; ambiguity of word, 217 
Kroner, Richard, 2 on 

Lange, F. A., 74 
Language and ontology, 208 if. 
Laplace, P. S., 238 
Laws of nature, as apriori^ 44; as 
habits, 67; as fictions, io6j as 
conventions, 186 if., 219 if. 
Leibniz, G. W. F., 91, 156 
Leverrier, U. J, J., 304 
Levy, H., 45 

Limiting concepts, 109 ff. 

Logical constructions, in mathe- 


[313] 

matics, 162 ff.; in physics, 171 ff., 
179 ff. 

Logical forms, as functions in in- 
quiry, 130 if., 142 
Logical methods, justification of, 
127, 132 

Logistic thesis, 167 ff. 

Lotze, H., 44 

Mach, Ernst, 15, 46, 90, 91, 94, 
i86n 

Maritam, J., 28, 32 
Marx, Karl, 45 

Mathematics, pure and applied, 
162, 223; mterpretanon of, 169 
Maxwell, J. C,, 23, 304, 305 
McGilvary, E. B., 192 
Mead, G. H., 53 

Meamng, and rules of usage, 47, 
93, 105, criteria of, 93 ff., 242 ff., 
246 ff., 301 ff. 

Mechanical categories, 23 
Meinong, A., 96 
Metaphysics, 12, 27 ff., 86, 154 
Mind, and sensory qualities, 19, 21, 
103, 134, 193, 218 
Mises, Richard von, ypn 
Misuses of language, 44, 48, 154, 
156-7, 176-7, 180, 222, 261 

Naive realism, 107, 19 1 
Nature of things, 272-7 
Necessary truths, 128 ff., 147 
Nelson, E. J., 25 2n 
Neurath, Otto, 46 
Newton, L, 23, 39, 9in, no, 122, 
124, 146, 239, 240, 241, 242n, 297, 
304 

Non-Euclidean geometry, 123 ff. 
Objective relativism, 52 ff. 



[314] 

Paul, G. A., 192 
Parker, D. H., 293 
Pearson, Karl, 90 

Peirce, C. S., 14, 16, 46, 53, Chap. 

4, Chap. 5, 142, 159, 246, 301, 302 
Phenomenalism, 204 
Philosophy, as commentary on sci- 
ence, 36, 51, 298 S. 

Philosophy of science, divisions of, 
10 ff., and theory of knowledge, 
19; as categorial analysis, 38 
Physical theory, and gross experi- 
ence, 38, 48, 102, 104, 301; and 
sensory qualities, 124, 134, 193; 
and necessary truth, 187; and 
reality, 134; and relations of de- 
pendence, 106 ff.; and symbol- 
ism, 217 

Plato, 36, 153, 156 
Poincar^ H., 15, 46, 76, 83 
Pointer-readings, 43, 44, 219, 222 
Pnnciple of continuity, 40, 56, 
62-4 

Prmciple of extensive abstraction, 
40, 41-2, 186 
Pragmatic maxim, 93 
Probability, 78-82, 98, 124, 226 ff., 
240 ff. 

Process philosophy, 41, 52-7, 153 
Pure data, 173 ff. 

Quantity, and quality, 20 ff., 43 ff., 
219 ff. 

Rationalism, 303 ff. 

Rationality, 267 ff., 306 
Reality, and sensory qualities, 

19 ff. 

Reason and experience, 120 ff., 128, 
144 

Reductive philosophies, 22, 24 ff., 
55 . 1 19 


Index 

Reichenbach, H., 14, 16, 790, Chap. 

14 

Relativity theory, 303 
Royce, Josiah, 82, 89 
Russell, B., 13, 14, 16, 46, 96, 150, 
Chap. 10, Chap, ii, Chap. 12, 
226 

Santayana, George, 59, 6on, 299 
Scepticism, and intellectual 
change, 125 
Schelling, F. W. J., 90 
Schiller, F. C. S., i87n 
Schopenhauer, A., 220 
Science, and art, 304; and society, 
12, 17 ff.; and valuation, 32 ff., 
104, 307 ff.; its disparagement, 
18, 22, 32 ff.; as common sense, 
37, as instrument of control, 38, 
45; interpretations of, loi ff., 
296 ff. 

Scientific materialism, 39, 15 1-2 
Scientific objects, 106-8 
Scientific theories, as directives to 
action, 108-115; as symbolical, 
300 ff. 

Sensory qualities, and the world 
of physics, 103, 106 
Selective subjectivism, 220 ff. 
Semantics, 96 
Shakespeare, W., 304 
Sheldon, W. H., 53 
Sheffer, H. M., 84 
Speculative philosophy, ii 
Spinoza, B., 66, 291 
Statistical method, and evolution- 
ary growth, 148 
Staudt, K. G. C. von, 163 
Stebbing, L. Susan, 222 
Substance, 183, 204 
Sylvester, Benjamin, 83 



[ 315 3 


Index 

Tarski, Alfred, 46, 195 

Teleological view of nature, 152 
ff., 159 S. 

Theory of knowledge, and dispar- 
agement of science, 19 if. 

Tomier, E., 79n 

Truth, criteria of, 129, 206 if. 

Ultimate causes, 30 

Ultimate simples, 181 

Universals, and internal relations, 
280-6 

Values, and science, 32 if., 104, 
307 S. 


Venn, John, 79, 84 
Verifiability principle of, 95, 246 fi, 
Vienna Circle, 90 

Weierstrass, Karl, 163 
Weight, as surrogate for trath, 
227 ff., 235 if. 

Weyl, H., 169, i7on 
Wheelwright, Philip 2on 
Whitehead, A. R, 13, 14, 16, zSn, 
38, 39 ff., 49, 59, 83, Chap. 9, 183. 
185 

Whittaker, Edmund T., 113 
Wittgenstein, L., 46, 59 
Woodger, J. H., 46